HERBIE: FULLY LOADED - Q&A with Angela Robinson
How did you cope with your first big budget feature? In the big race it's said you used 23 cameras, pure Howard Hughes stuff?
That's right. It was this wonderful thing called pre-production. We have months and months to try and piece it out and they pair you up with incredibly smart, logistically smart people. I didn't have to do the math. I said it should be spectacular and exciting and I want people to cry and laugh. Then everybody had to interpret that into 23 cameras and this much film stock. That was definitely the most challenging part of making the movie. In shooting the real race it was technologically unfeasible to try and recreate a race. Part of it is the being there and the energy of the race and all the people there and the excitement. Also we couldn't make a computerised crowd because of the way the track was designed. So we had to shoot on race day and then go back for about two weeks, to fill in all the blanks and shoot the tighter shots. Then we also did the physical stunts. And on top of that they created a 3-D thing of the track for some of the more complex shots, like Herbie up on the wall. It was a lot of planning.
Were there days when your head ached?
Many! Plus it was hot! It was like 110 degrees a lot of the time. There was a lot of pressure, I definitely felt the responsibility. When I made my first movie, I wrote, directed and edited that. It was small and containable and you could do everything. Then when you work on a movie this size you really are like a general. You have to trust that you will give orders and everybody will go out and do what they do. It's liked being a football coach and if these people don't move in here then everything can really get messed up. I had a tremendous crew though. They really surrounded me with good people, which was instrumental.
Isn't NASCAR racing a very male kind of universe?
Oh yeah that's why I wanted to go! I thought it was cool! That is what attracted me about the script, that it was about a girl who wanted to be a race car drive in a really competitive male dominated world. I related to that, I don't know why. I thought it was a great story to tell and that it would be great because I knew how far the movie could reach. It could reach kids and younger adults and it was a great message. It was intimidating but that's what I have been trying to do my whole life. So when you finally get the opportunity to work at the level you've been aiming for, you take it. It's trial by fire.
What about the intimidation of tackling a near 40-year franchise?
Right! I remember loving Herbie when I was a kid and watching it on TV. But I was shocked that everyone I talked to remembered the films. The nostalgia for Herbie extended a lot further than I initially anticipated. But luckily I had it in my take that I thought the way to bring Herbie back was to stay as true to the original character of Herbie as possible. My first decision was not to make him CG...like really morphy and animated...like Scooby Doo and Garfield. I feel really alienated from those I prefer puppets. In STAR WARS I prefer Chewbaca, a guy in a fur suit. I felt that you could still smell the CG a little bit and that was a small alienation for the audience every time you do that. So I didn't think I could have that in a Herbie movie. I went and watched all the old Herbie movies and the style of comedy is so charming. And I thought that was what people really love; that is so so lo-fi and he is a character. So I thought you should bring back the old character and try to figure out all of his stuff and then have a whole new, exciting world. But I was really trying to balance the nostalgia with introducing it to a new generation of kids and teenagers.
Why is it that girls more than guys like Herbie movies?
I don't know. I love watching the movie with kids. It didn't actually occur to me that I was making a movie that a lot of kids would see. I was trying to make a cool, honest, fun Disney movie...one of the great ones. I had watched those and thought I wanted to make a great one. The other day at one of the screenings there was this five year old girl who was shouting during the race. I thought that I could go home now. At age five she thinks she can win the NASCAR race and that's great. I have not really encountered that women love the car more than men. I would be surprised because he is cute and you want to take him home. But the guys really respond to the action in the comedy.
What did you expect from Lindsay Lohan?
I met Lindsay right after CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE DRAMA QUEEN, it was before MEAN GIRLS which I really loved and was excited that I had her in my movie. I pretty much got what I expected because we met early on and she has got this tremendous spirit and fire. She is really feisty and honest. She tells you what she thinks. She was perfect for the character. I really wanted somebody whom you would believe wanted to be a race car driver and she had this desire to compete. She couldn't be a shrinking violet. She was really out there. I was actually surprised - this sounds weird - at how good she was. She is only 19 but she's been doing this for so long that she is so professional. For instance...she would say that I wasn't going to use the close up and I'd think who are you? Then I'd realise I was not going to use the close up. She just knows movies. She knows the mechanics - she has grown up on them. So that was surprising...how incredibly savvy she was about the movie making process and she'd know about the camera angles. All sorts of little things that it usually takes very seasoned actors to figure everything out. She has incredible instincts and I think she has almost like a photographic memory. It is bizarre. She come in read through it and just do it...in one or two takes if maybe Herbie messed up or something. I feel she has only tapped about maybe 15 per cent of her capacity as an actor. She was really wanting to do the more dramatic scenes and I'd have to say we are just making a Herbie movie. There is a great scene when she is acting with Michael - it's one of the only pretty serious scenes in the movie - when she tells him how much she wants to race and he tells her she can't. She was so excited to act with Michael in that scene because it was one she could sink her teeth into because she can do the rest of it with her eyes closed. That was fun to watch. I was think she's going to do a lot more because it's all right there ready to go.
What inspired you to make movies?
I think I just love the element of fantasy. I was a latch key kid, so I tried to disappear into different worlds and different lands. I had a really lazy baby sitter who would just drop me off at the mall and I went to movie after movie every afternoon. I really wanted to create these worlds where I could rewrite the world.
What was the movie that made you think that was what you wanted to do?
I think it was strangely CABARET. It was the first that remember thinking it was incredible. Earlier it might have been RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK or ET that I emotionally connected with the fantasy. But with CABARET I thought it was powerful and something that you could make meaning. I also grew up watching all the Disney movies. Although I never thought that I would be making a Disney movie. I was shocked when they called me. I was at Sundance with my funky little indie movie. But Disney is really happy with this movie so they have offered me a deal to go hang out on their shingle and make movies on the Disney lot. So that's cool. Now I'm reading a lot of stuff. But next I am having a vacation and then another movie.
What about working with Disney?
It was cool. They were worried that the father in the movie didn't come across as too chauvinist. They take it seriously that they are almost parenting kinds because so many kids see the movie. It was really important how Lindsay's character lies when she is put on the spot. Each lie had to have a very specific comeuppance. They take the making of these movies incredibly seriously. It is weird making a movie that you know will almost be like a baby sitter. Kids will watch it over and over and in 20 years it will be re-released. You are part of the pantheon of Disney titles.
What about the Lindsay rumours that happened during filming?
I have no idea how those things come about. She could not blink without someone sending me an email. It was totally disconcerting. I was totally in the eye of the storm. I am so focused on making the movie that I was pretty clueless about the momentum that her celebrity was generating from the start to finish of making the movie. When we started she wasn't 'a movie star'. She had done FREAKY FRIDAY, CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE DRAMA QUEEN and MEAN GIRLS had not come out - and I kept thinking this would break but it kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. I remember it was weird that I would read stuff about myself on the internet and I didn't say that, I didn't do that, it didn't happen. I think it is a massive game of telephone. Some third party gives their interpretation of something which then gets told to somebody else and then it becomes something that sometimes is right and sometimes is totally wrong.
What was the most far-fetched story?
There was a story that she nearly got squashed when a billboard fell on her during a stunt sequence. But no billboard fell. It was just fiction.
The pop songs play a vital role, who chose them?
That was my job and a guy named Howard Parr who is the music supervisor. We found the music that's in the movie. When I pitched the movie I thought the nostalgia was such an important element that I said we should put in a ton of 60s, 70s and 80s rock. I wanted the movie to operate on one level for kids and on the other for parents. Then it was a process of listening to so much rock and playing different songs to the picture. We tried a ton of songs against the Demo Derby but thought Jump wouldn't work - then it did! During the making Justin Long kept singing 'It's Magic' by Pilot and he said the song was too on the nose to use. But we tried it and it really had the whimsical, Californian feeling and it was perfect.
Why Michael Keaton?
I was interested in Michael for the role just because he is a huge idol of mine and I grew up watching his movies. I was thrilled when I heard he was considering being in the movie. So we went and had a long conversation. I just think he is one of the best actors...period! He is so good. I wanted the character to be intimidating enough to propel the story line but I did not want him to come off as a jerk. I wanted him to come from a place of love and his kids were doing what they were doing because they didn't want to disappoint him. We gave him a back story that ever since the mother had died some years ago, the kids did not want to rock the boat because he was holding on to the dream of his son replacing him as a NASCAR driver. His dream for his daughter was leaving the town and going off to have a better life. I thought Michael could make the character come from love but still have weight.
What about casting Justin Long?
I was so excited when he came in to read because I did not want the Ken Doll. I wanted this character to have an interesting face and a lot of comedy. So I was excited by him because he works as heart throb but brought so much flair and comedy. I was excited about pairing him with Lindsay. That chemistry brought much more to the movie.
Did the studio interfere?
I can honestly say they were incredibly involved in pre-production and once we started shooting the movie they let me alone. Once we were ready to roll camera we were really in synch about the movie we were making. I felt really good about it - they were incredibly supportive. They were watching the dailies every day and if I messed up I'm sure I would have heard about it. They were surprisingly hands-off.
What are you working on?
I'm writing an action comedy that I hope to make. I have 10 pages but I can't really talk about it.
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