Thursday, 5 June 2008


To insufflate a true artistic vision is not easy for a director when he must head a multi-million dollars production. Known till then for his two comedies with Adam Sandler (The Wedding Singer, and The Waterboy), Frank Coraci offers us with his remake of Around the world in 80 days, not only an excellent entertaining moment but also an arresting, imaginative and funny movie close to the spirit of The Great Race.

Interview with the Master of Ceremony of Steve Coogan and Jackie Chan’s fabulous journey.

You have an obvious talent in orchestrating comedies but, interestingly, your first movie as a director was a remarked thriller called Murdered Innocence.

Frank Coraci : I was 26 when I made that film. A producer approached me at a video store in New York, Fred Carpenter. He had made a few other indies. He knew I was a director. Since graduating New York University I had shot a number of short films. He took a look at my reel and was impressed enough to offer me the opportunity to direct a script he had raised $200 000 to make. He was to star in it.

You also co-wrote the script...

Frank Coraci : I read the script which was very derivative of a 70’s TV police drama. It needed work so I said I would do the film if I could rewrite it. We agreed on the terms that I would complete the rewrite in two weeks and then we would start shooting.

I immediately called one of my good friends and fellow classmates from NYU, Steven Peros. Both of us had a love for noir films from the 40s and realized the script lent itself to that genre with a detective haunted by his past put into a morally ambiguous situation.

Corny police exposition could be turned into stylized dialogue. Guns, flashbacks, murder, a Femme fatale - it all fell into place and we had a script in 2 weeks.

Could you tell us some words about the shooting ?

The movie was mostly cast by the time I was involved. Jason Miller (The Exorcist) was set to be the lead. The rest was true independent casting - FX/make-up artist was the villain and Miller’s friends the other detectives. Nobody really got paid. Most of the crew was from Hofstra film school on Long Island. It was a true independent in that way.

Our 14 day planned shooting schedule turned into 33 days. It wouldn’t be uncommon that the caterer would show up and pull my producer and actor Carpenter off the set to rough him up to collect money we didn’t have. We somehow managed to pull it off on budget and sold it to Columbia/Tri-star home video. The film went on to win the Long Island Film Festival in NY. And was showcased at the Sao Paolo festival in Brazil.

On that film I met my producer, Phyllis Alia, who has been involved on all my films since. My good friend Tom Lewis was my editor on that film and has cut all my films to date.

The spirit of Mr Blake Edwards flies over Around the world in 80 days. More than of the 1956 movie your version is reminiscent of The Great Race. Did you have some classics in mind during the preparation of the film and when you directed it ?

Frank Coraci : Thank you for comparing the film to the work of Blake Edwards. I’m flattered. I did love to see the Pink Panther films back when I was younger, so I guess that’s where the Blake Edwards influence may have come from.

I didn’t have any one classic in mind when remaking it. But I did feel that the tone should be somewhere between Indiana Jones and a Monty Python film, with the imagination of Willie Wonka tossed in. I just knew I wanted this remake of Around the world in 80 days to be the kind of film I could have seen when I was a kid.

In an interview you said that if you were not a director you would be a professional DJ. One of your distinctive trademarks as a director is precisely your sense of rhythm and timing. According to you what needs a comic situation to be efficient ?

Frank Coraci : The most efficient thing you can do to a comic situation is make sure it’s funny. I believe in comedy you have to be extremely self-critical. One joke falling flat can ruin the next six good jokes.

I also believe comedy is about not doing the expected. If the audience sees a punch line coming and they get the one they expected you just made a really hackie joke. That will cause people to groan, not laugh. But if they don’t see it coming or it’s not what they were predicting, you got them.

As far as timing, it’s such a strange phenomenon how literally 3 frames - 3/24ths of a second - has the power to make something funny. It’s something you just have to feel. I guess it is like spinning records. You never want to clear the dancefloor by picking the wrong song, or missing your beat match.

Your Phileas Fogg, performed with subtlety by Steve Coogan, owes more to Doctor Who, Buster Keaton or Monsieur Hulot than to David Niven and shows a vast palette of emotions. Was it important for you that Fogg be more realistic and more than the « sidekick » of Passepartout, especially when Passepartout is played by a big star such as Jackie Chan ?

Frank Coraci : I never viewed Phileas in this remake as the sidekick. It was always important that his character had a strong arc and the most important difference between this Phileas and the 1956 version is that in Niven’s version he was a confident man. He never doubted he would win the bet. It was important to me that Phileas was a man with big dreams, but also big insecurities.

I believe Coogan did an amazing job bringing true vulnerability to Phileas. In turn, I believe it added drama to him winning the bet and even more importantly, it made the audience identify with and root for him. So I guess the emotional and realistic performance comes first and then the comedy can hang on that. And what’s great about Coogan is that his comedic ability can range from silly slapstick to intelligent British wit. It’s that range that makes me feel he is truly is one of the best comedic actors making films.

It has been widely written that your first job was to film travel documentaries and that this is a useful experience to helm Around the world in 80 days. On the other side did you try to have a cinematographic vision when you directed these documentaries ? Were you thinking sometimes about certains of your favorite movies when you were abroad behind your camera ?

Frank Coraci : When I was abroad behind the camera I was always thinking « How the hell did I get so lucky to have this job ?! » But yes, all I could think of was « I can’t wait until I can make a movie and put these amazing, awe inspiring visuals in a film ». I literally thought that when I filmed with a HI-8 video camera a shot of the Great wall of China. On the production of 80 days I went to the same section of the wall I had filmed 10 years earlier, but this time with a 35mm film camera and a helicopter. I actually got to live my dream.

The whole cast of Around the world is marvelous. Cecile De France plays a character à la Shirley MacLaine. How did you choose her ?

Frank Coraci : I love the cast because it’s truly international. I went to Paris to find an actress who could play the role of the French artist, Monique. I had auditioned most of the top actresses in Paris. The level of talent there was overwhelming. But still, Cecile sparkled with an energy beyond all the others. She has this amazing ability to be strong, yet lovable, feminine and really funny. She’s like a beautiful Lucille Ball.

About French speaking actors, Michaël Youn is very funny as the art gallery manager. Who got the idea to cast him ? Do you know that he is a famous moneymaking comedian in France ?

Frank Coraci : My casting director from Paris, Sylvie Brochère had made me aware of him. I had only seen him on an audition tape, but immediately realized he was a talent I wanted to work with. I didn’t realize he was a famous moneymaking comedian, but it doesn’t surprise me. I think he will be an actor that continues to grow worldwide.

You were born and raised in New York and Martin Scorsese is one of your favourites directors. Would you like to shoot in your hometown a movie more intimate than your precedents in a pure « scorcesian » mood with « scorcesian » stars ?

Frank Coraci : I am a lover of small, dark, arty movies. I never expected my career to land me making such big commercial films. I hope it’s my love of smaller films that helps my wider audience movies to stand out.

I would love to do a smaller movie. I would try to put a pure « Coracian » mood on it and be sure to tip my hat to the great Marty. I would also like to take actors from other genres and collaboratively help them to give deeper and darker performances. But I also wouldn’t mind Deniro or Keitel in one of my movies either.

The cameos of Around the world in 80 days are appropriate and elegants. Arnold Schwarzenegger is fantastic as the narcissic turkish prince whose jewel of the crown is a statue of him. These cameos (Kathy Bates, Sammo Hung Kam-Bo, etc...) were quasi-obligations due to the 1956 version but this time they are not a gimmick...

Frank Coraci : The cameos seemed like a natural thing to borrow from the original. When you travel you’re not only see interesting places, but you’re also going to meet interesting people. Arnold was a sport to make fun of himself. I love that scene. Everyone just had fun with the roles.

Sammo was the only person I could imagine Jackie having as his Wong Fei Hung. Jackie is know as « Big Brother » to the martial artists in Hong Kong. Sammo is the only one that is his « Big Brother ». So I guess « Big Big Brother » to everyone else. There are also some sprinkled in for the fun of it like Macy Gray and Richard Branson.

Can you tell us about the way the production and yourself conceived these scenes ? Did you want some names in particular ?

Frank Coraci : We didn’t have most of the cameos when we started shooting, so much of the rewriting was done a few days before so many of the cameos showed up. If Prince Hapi was played by anyone other than Arnold the whole scene would have to be different.

Kathy Bates was someone I had wanted from the beginning. She just seemed like she would be a perfect Queen Victoria. I knew she would be funny, but command the utmost respect. It was fun to work with her again since The Waterboy.

Rob Schneider is a friend of mine and really wanted to do the « San Francisco Hobo » role. I originally wrote the Steamer Captain for him, but everyone was afraid to leave the country to go to Thailand because the war in Iraq had just begun. Luckily, Mark Addy had the courage to come, because his comedic timing of that character gets some of the biggest laughs.

Micha Klein has created wonderful title and visual transition designs for the film. His creations remind those of the Monty Python (John Cleese appears in Around the world) with a touch of Dr Seuss. You will work again with this artist on a sci-fi project.

Frank Coraci : Micha and I had met in Miami at the Winter Music Conference in 1998. He first started out in Amsterdam as a VJ. He was one of the first artists to make and play artful video images at raves and clubs. I was thoroughly impressed by these projected images in a club in Miami and later was introduced to Micha. Upon chatting I learned he was the creator of the images I had previously seen. and we have become good friends since then.

When I envisioned how to travel from country to country I knew I wanted to pull out to the globe and really get a sense of where we were going. I felt realistic CGI would never look realistic. So I thought go to a magical, hyper-reality. And I thought there’s no one better to bring you to a hyper-reality than Micha.

Currently, I am in the development stage of a sci-fi, Human. Micha and his team are helping me to create a visual world that will be more unique than anything we’ve seen before. It will also be a video game beacause I’m a video game fanatic.

You have formed your own production company, which co-produced Around the world in 80 days. What kind of projects do you wish to develop with your company ? On what are you currently working on as a director and as a producer ?

Frank Coraci : At my film company, Spanknyce (also my DJ name), we are developing for me to direct scripts that range from Sci-fi, Horror, to small, little dark comedies. For me to produce there are more mainstream comedies. I’m also writing a Hollywood satire of the industry called Mac Roberts. I want to share my comedically dark insight into Hollywoodland.

I’m also just starting to delve a bit into developing some TV. In the States recently, TV has truly pushed the boundaries of how good TV can really be.

The director, novelist and screenwriter Nicholas Meyer told us that his definition of a good story is that once you hear it, you understand why someone wanted to tell it to you. What is your definition of a good story and what type of stories do you like to hear, read, see and tell ?

Frank Coraci : I think the best stories to tell are the ones that are personal and tonally unique. If it’s truly personal to the storyteller, than it will be more honest and personal to the audience members. I believe the true art comes in film when the personal story is recreated by setting it in a new world with characters that mask or exaggerate the original story.

It’s the tone of a story that distinguishes it from all others. Film is a great medium because it has the most variables to create an original tone.

(Interview done in 2003)

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