Herbie: Fully Loaded: An Interview with Director Angela Robinson
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Herbie: Fully Loaded: An Interview with Director Angela Robinson
By Wilson MoralesAfter doing an independent film, one would think that it would some time before you got back in the saddle and do another film. Not for Angela Robinson, who directed the indie film "D.E.B.S", which came out earlier this year after making the festival circuit. For her next film, Ms. Robinson had to quickly learn about dealing with not only a star actress and CGI, but she also was working with a major studio. Coming out on June 24th is "Herbie: Fully Loaded", which stars Lindsay Lohan, Matt Dillon, and Herbie the Volkswagen. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Ms. Robinson talks about working with the car, Lindsay Lohan, and excitement of Nascar racing.
Why do you think there's a parallel between "D.E.B.S" and "Herbie"?
Angela Robinson: I actually think they found a lot of parallels betweens "D.E.B.S", we were at Sundance at the time and they saw the movie but both movies are about, you know, with a female protagonist whose trying to kind of find, follow her dreams and find herself while other people want her to do something else and so I think they thought there was a lot of fun and style but most you know, that it was very contemporary but had a lot of heart in the movie as far as that there was a kind of yearning of the character and an earnestness with a lot of comedy at the same time and so I think they wanted me to imply that kind of stylist take to Herbie because they knew they had this kind of beloved character but they really wanted to introduce it to a whole new generation of kids.
Were there any reservations to doing a studio picture?
AR: No, I was really psyched. I really wanted to work on a large scale and I was exited. Actually, when I got the script I was like, I loved the movies when I was a kid but I was like when are they going to do it as a remake and then I read it, I was like, oh no, it's this whole new adventure and by the time I got to the demo derby when I was reading the script I was like completely drawn into the story about this girl and this car, who are both trying to realize their dreams together. And so I was really exited and also I was exited to direct it, a big action thing.
Was it daunting taking on a car racing film?
AR: Oh yeah, I was terrified totally but really exited. I really as a filmmaker I have always aspired to work on a really large scale to you know, I loved big popcorn movies when I was a kid and you know, so as a filmmaker even with debs it was just like $3.5 million I mean very - we tried to do a lot with a little so it was exiting to do a lot with a lot.
How much was it?
AR: Oh, I'm supposed to be vague about those questions, sorry.
Was Lindsay brought into the picture when you came aboard?
AR: Yes, she was. Well, she was interested in playing the part and then we met but she was definitely my first choice to play the part.
AR: Because she's so good. I mean she's just fantastic. You watch her on screen, I find as a director and I really felt that it was important that you believe that this girl wanted to be a race car driver, that she had enough energy, enough kind of an aggressive quality but was still vulnerable and she had to be - have the sweetness and also be a good enough actor. It's an incredibly different acting challenge to actually act with a car. I think the reason to me that the movie is successful is that you believe that she has a relationship with Herbie and that she makes that believable because you know when you're like go Herbie go, you kind of have to really suspend your belief but she just does so effortlessly.
Didn't her medical problems arise while shooting this film?
AR: She went to the hospital for few days when we were shooting..
What was the situation about?
AR: I think she was just exhausted.
Okay, overhaul how was she to work with?
AR: She's amazing actually. I had an amazing time because she's really interesting because she doesn't - her instincts are so good. She just comes like a lot of actors kind of prepare and they have these very like vigorous things and want to do a lot of takes and she just comes in and she reads the scene before she does it and she does it and its perfect and its weird. It's actually like she's no nature and so many - such a skill. Like she does one or two takes tops and as a director you almost - I think actually I read like Tina Phase said something similar where she's just like - she does it like you hear it in your head which is what you're always as a director kind of trying to because we're just trying to mold it to how you hear it in your head and then she just does it and that's wonderful.
How do you balance the special effects and control the actors?
AR: Actually its incredibly like the whole movie is a huge technological theme and that we built like - there were 37 Herbies that we used to make 63 bugs and we built 4 anamotronic cars who kind of created the bolt of his emotions - there are four puppeteers on the cars so it's a big coordination but the puppeteers actually had such a strong grasp of kind of Herbie's reactions. I talked to them you know like the head Bob Short was the head puppeteer and I talked to him like an actor and I'd be like in this scene Herbie is blah, blah, blah and then I'd talk to Lindsey and they'd react but she'd always get annoyed if Herbie was late on his take - but it was really just trying to stay true to the heart and the intention. The most difficult thing was really trying to make clear what Herbie was thinking and feeling at the time because everybody thinks he talks like they were like oh Herbie - you know they remember old movie that he talks but he never talked but you always understand what he means and so trying to work out that visual language was a challenge.
Did you not use a lot of CG?
AR: AC: Pretty much. The first decision I made making the movie was to have him be a real Volkswagen and not be CG car. It was kind of a movement to do totally CG thinks with Garfield or Scooby Doo but I really thought that a lot of the charm from the original Herbie movies and characters came from him being the actual car and kind of the low by slapsticks comedy came with it so I tried as much as we could to do it with the real Volkswagen and with special effects meaning like onset you know, guys pulling ropes and stuff instead of the visual effects but for some of the more spectacular stunts there was you know, we definitely had a CG car.
Can you describe a little bit obviously - Nascar race. Was that real or a made-up?
AR: No, we shot during a real Nascar race. We shot three in a pop secret 500 which
Could you explain where Herbie was , and was Herbie actually racing any of those cars?
AR: Yeah, totally, that last sequence was kind of made up of a bunch of different parts but it was - the main part was working with Nascar and going to shoot during the actual race because you can't replicate all the people you know or the energy or the drivers who are there and all the cars and so it was motivation of Normandy. It was like from 12:22 you're here and 12:29 you have to move you know and cars were coming through like move out of the car's way. We will not stop for you. They were like really like you are not the most like run because they're not stopping so but they were very collaborative and they gave us a pit during the race so we were shooting there kind of live and the cars were going by and I told the actors to stay away and they let Herbie out on the track during the pace lap so there's a bunch of footage where you see him and then we went back and it was not during a race and recreated parts of the race to do the major stunts.
What do you think of the Nascar community?
AR: Nascar community? I didn't know anything about Nascar before I started. I had no - I was only a race car movie but I didn't know what - so my first experience was they sent me to a race in Las Vegas and that was my first trip to Las Vegas and that was my first Nascar race so it was incredibly overwhelming. I was like wow, wow, wow. It was just like stimulation and - but I gave such an appreciation for what they do and they were incredibly gracious; I mean to let us have almost all access into their lives and we wanted to be - it was every important for us to get it right, I mean in as much as it's a story about a Volkswagen racing in Nascar but we worked with them about what kind of house the Peyton's lived with, what kind of car they drive and you know, what they wear, I mean all the way down through them giving us access to the drivers in the races so its cool.
How many cars did you use? Did Volkswagens supply the cars?
AR: We went hunting for them. Randy White was in charge of rangling all the cars in the movie. Not just the Volkswagens and he'd put stuff out of the internet and you know, we just had cars coming in.
The original Herbie showed up, right?
AR: Yes, he came and read the first - they called, he was the first one to arrive but I mean he was the original you know, kept up and sold to a guy in Ohio and then it came in and I remember they were like Herbie's here. Okay, so I went down to the garage and I was all by myself and it was kind of very early in pre-production and I just got the - I did kind of like walked, I walked around Herbie and I was like, well, we're going to be working together so, you know, how do you like to work and I was really trying to get, because its you know the lead in a way, I mean, so you know, we had some face and we bonded and -
AR: You know, actually, surprisingly he didn't break down. Once he broke down but other than that he was pretty gung ho.
What was your reaction that Disney has concerns about Lindsey's assets and how do you sort of downplay her sexuality for a G rated movie? Were there concerns about how a G rated movie would play with her Lindsay's sexuality?
AR: No, that I think was largely propagated on the internet; it wasn't really our concern.
I've got to say that the first couple of scenes that she's in, where did they go, but then you know, later on she was like Lindsey of last year. Was there any CG reduction
Was there really any talk of CG reduction?
Why have her graduate from college instead of high school?
AR: I think that was one of the things that came on with the script when I first had - I think it was wanting her to - the story was about like different kind of like that moment in your life where you could choose to go on and which life won't - we didn't feel like in college it was clearly defined enough, it was still - sometimes when you're discussing story stuff - I always feel like college - it's just not defined enough as story choices so they made that decision.
The opening sequence looked cool.
AR: It looks great, right, a company called UN & Company designed it.
Was that footage from the old film?
AR: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Isn't that great. We actually - that was one of the later developments. We tested the movie and it was playing really well but everybody had questioned, they just wanted to be reminded of the original movies and kind of had questions of where Herbie had been and what he was doing and so we came up with this idea to kind of chart the rise and fall of Herbie before we found him in this movie and I thought UN & company did a fantastic job just graphically. Yeah, cool.
So, who's idea was it to have Kit from Knight Rider in the film?
AR: We joked about trying to do some contemporary charting through time so I pitched them about trip different ideas but they actually came back with Knight Rider and that was hilarious.
Did Dean Jones ever give you a call?
AR: You know, they talked to him kind of early on but I don't think, nothing ever came of it.
Was that your choice of combine some old and new music?
AR: Yeah, definitely. That was one of the things I wanted to do coming in; is kind of combine the nostalgia of old movies which I thought you could really do through - I was like it should just be all about 70's and 80's rock. I thought that would be cool. Seems to work with Nascar as well so I really wanted it, but I really wanted the songs to viscerally take you to a time. I worked with Howard Parvin the music supervisor to kind of create, pick all the songs in the movie, it was cool.
Is Lindsay on the soundtrack?
AR: She has a song in the - entitles first that she sang for the movie.
How did you handle Lindsay's celebrity and the paparazzi? How did you keep her focus?
AR: You know, because it's interesting because everybody always asks me that, I always felt like I was kind of in the eye in the storm basically because I'm just so focused and I'm like she's just shooting the movie like people come in front of me and so it's been strange at times, I was always so surprised because I never, when like we'd be there and shooting something and Lindsey's, and she's got a great eye, like she's like whose that guy over there and I'd be like who is that guy? But he'd pull out a camera and start like flashing pictures so it was just disconcerning like every now and again we had a lot of big crowd scenes with a lot of extras so sometimes they'd sneak in, you know, take some pictures and then somebody would run them off.
Are you developing another project with Disney?
AR: Yeah, no I'd really like to - I just signed a deal with Disney to do a first look deal to make more movies with them so that's cool, yeah.
Anything prime time?
AR: Oh, I'm looking around in a couple of different things so we're talking but nothing specific really yet.
Can you tell us some of the scenes in the original movie that made it in this film?
AR: Yeah, there was a bunch of Herbies too on the originals so I'm actually not sure which because I mean there weren't 37 but there were probably 5 to 10 actually because Herbie does something like we built a wheelie, we went back to a lot of the original and talked to some of the original mechanics and stuff who designed the car and figured out how to do the wheelie the way they did the wheelie and figure out these other things, I'm sorry I don't know exactly where. I can't keep track there was so many, I don't know but I could find out for you actually, yeah.
How was coming up under Spike Lee?
AR: Spike Lee is the busiest man I have ever met and part of my job was just to follow him around. It was incredible. It was to be as, I guess almost a manager time you have so much to do in a given day and how to do that and the big lesson I learned from him was to talk to everybody directly so he said when you're directing your movie don't have somebody talk to somebody or you just like - he was even down to the assistant or the PA to like - if it was something that was creative that you needed to communicate directly to everybody, so that's cool.
Did you try to make any of the secondary characters similar to those from the original film?
AR: A little bit, a little bit. When we were first looking at the movie we tested it and everybody and it was Herbie, more Herbie just about the car seemed to be working the best in that, that was where the through line scene seemed the strongest between Maggie and her and Michael Keaton and also Trip Murphy so that kind of the villain the part and her relationship with her father. There was more of a storyline with her brother where she found out that he was in a band and keeping that a secret from his father so that both, actually both kids actually had secrets that they were keeping from their parents and that came to light and there was a little more of a love story between Michael Keaton and Cheryl Hines' character.
Any scenes on the DVD?
AR: Oh yeah, we concluded a bunch of those deleted scenes of the DVD and a bunch of stuff, they've been very good about tracking and following us around with the pre-production and so it has all sorts of goodies and all about the making of the car and a lot of extras.
Do you own a Herbie?
AR: You know, I have dibs on a Herbie but he's out on tour so, if he'll still return my phone calls when we get back.
What do you drive?
AR: You know, that's so boring, I drive a silver Honda Accord. If I lose my car in a parking lot, like I'm lost there for hours. Going beep, beep trying to find it because it looks like every other car.
It feels like there's an awful lot of stuff of the kids won't get and you know every time you have a movie that ends with sex the kids might not necessarily get that so.
AR: I mean, I was really trying to - I want it to be interesting for adults as well and so I tried to like the Lionel Ritchie joke or there's a lot of stuff in there for adults and I think that the best kids movies played on two levels and so that you should be able to, I mean you would just judge from the movie, like I thought perhaps they'd ask me to scale down the demo derby scene but it was very important to me that it actually be - it should be scary - like you know a Pinnochio scene or where I think the best is the movies kind of get you really could be scary and then kind of open afterwards but you know judging from what you got from the movie that's G and it is a movie so.
Between making a family movie - what the difference for you - would you rather be doing, a kid film or an adult film?
AR: D.E.B.S is definitely my baby and it had a completely different agenda and approach but both stories I think are very - but I also have a very sweet and optimistic world view - you know find love and have a happy ending - in spirit I think that there is a say - and definitely when you're making big budget Disney movie, definitely watch yourself. I think the most total thing is that at times I would veer more to making - a little more satirical view - and then they would dial me back to not - not to make fun of what your doing - like the sense of comedy is just a little softer because it was not to make fun of directly what you were doing. It was to make fun of the circumstances or to you know, but it was just kind of writing that line.
When you talk about the car, why is the Volkswagen so appropriate for this film?
AR: There's a funny story about the original love bug and they did a casting call for the Herbie so they didn't know what kind of car, that's called like man car girl original movie, some strange title and they brought all sorts of different cars, like an Austin Martin and MG Volkswagen, like a Chrysler, they didn't know what car it was going to be - and the animators, they brought them to the Disney lot and had all the Disney employees come almost like a car show to pick who Herbie would be and then the animators stood back and watched how people interacted with the cars and they said that everybody thought the other cars were cooler or more exiting or more sporty but the Volkswagen was the only one people would pat and kind of treat like a pet; they really like felt, they would treat it you know, almost like an animal instead of like a car and that's why they picked the Volkswagen.
Can you talk about working with Michael Keaton?
AR: Yeah, Michael Keaton was - I was so intimidated when I found out - because I grew up on all his movies, he's such an incredible actor but he was really fantastic. I had to meet him. He likes to meet for like 2 hours before we started shooting and we had this really intense character conversation and he said he just liked to work it all out before, like so he asked me all these questions, this is this, and I had to you know, I thought it was kind of a test so I had to very clear in what I wanted and then he was like okay and then he just came in and performed his part and he's so just incredible to watch work. It was really neat to see him and Lindsey work together because she was so in awe of him, she kept being like "he's the real Batman" and Matt was hilarious because actually we - the original character of Trip was very different, he was like a hip hop character - it was like a strange conglomeration and we were reading actors for it and it just wasn't working and I was just like this is so played out we need to just ditch it entirely and then we scrapped the character and asked ourselves who would make the best Disney villain and Nascar driver and like everybody had the same idea and they're like Matt Dillon would be hilarious and so we called him up and I like got on the phone with the writers and pitched in the character and he had a lot to do with the writing of his character.
What was it like to get into the car?
AR: That was wild. We did the Richard Penny driving experience where its insane, they just go, and they give you like for about 10 minutes, they teach you how to drive the car and then they're like go. Go like you go out on the California speedway and it was so - I was kind of a slow poke actually they kept telling me to go faster and - but you could really feel the chief horse and what's strange is you don't steer a lot, you just kind of adjust and it seemed to me - it seemed more about in turns, like that's what I got from the experience was the amount of concentration and endurance you needed to stay focused and to race in that intensity, you could feel like the car and what a big machine it is.
After being in the car, did it change your vision on how to shoot the film?
AR: I changed how the actors would look on the green screen a lot of times and how Herbie would be - we direct them not to go like this.
Is there a sequel to this film?
AR: Maybe. We'll see how it does on June 22nd. If it does great, yes.
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