Interview: Neal H. Moritz, Producer of TOTAL RECALL

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Starburst caught up with the prolific movie producer Neal H. Moritz to talk about his latest movie, Total Recall, out on DVD/Blu-ray December 26th...

Starburst: Who was the first person to say, “Let’s do a remake of Total Recall?”

Neal H. Moritz: One of the guys who works for me, a producer on the movie, Toby Jaffe, came to me and said, “You know what? I was in this bookstore the other day and I picked up the short story We Can Remember it For Your Wholesale” and he said he read it and it’s a great story. Maybe we should talk about remaking Total Recall. We went back and watched Total Recall, which was one of my favorite movies growing up, and I remembered why I liked it so much but also remembered, God, it was really campy and kitschy. Maybe there’s a great idea here to do it. What I always look at in the beginning of a movie are two things: who is my main character and am I going to love that character? And number two: what’s the idea that is ultimately going to bring people to the movie theaters? The idea of being able to get in a chair and be whoever you want to be or go wherever you want to go or do whatever you want to do is just an incredibly great idea to me. My feeling is that if there was an actual business that could actually do that it would probably be the biggest business in the world. Maybe even bigger than Apple. Conceptually I loved, loved, loved that idea so I said, let’s try and do it. It took a while to get the rights, which was very complex, but we did that and then we hired a writer that we love and had great hopes and the first draft of the script came in. I read that script and was like, I’ve got to make this movie. I loved the script. Then it happened pretty quickly in the great scheme of things in Hollywood. From the time we first started talking to the day we’re sitting here, it was maybe three years, which is not that long when I look at 21 Jump Street, which was at least six years and that was still kind of shortened in the scheme of Hollywood. The studio read it right after we did it and they loved it about as much as we did and said, “Okay, let’s try and get this thing together.” Then we tried to figure out how we were going to make it and who was going to direct it and who’s going to star in it.

Was there any discussion about doing it in 3D?

There was a discussion about it but when you see the whole movie you’ll see that there’s so much stuff on screen, we felt that it could be very overwhelming to watch the movie in 3D. Len really wanted to make a reality-based sci-fi movie and we felt that the 3D might take us a little bit farther into a futuristic vein and we just decided that, on this particular movie, we wouldn’t want to do that, even though there were many people who would have liked us to have done 3D. We just felt that, with this movie, this was the best way to go.

Colin is Irish and Kate is English. Why do American producers cast Irish and British actors more often than American actors?

It seems like there are more of them that have been trained at an early age. I don’t know if that’s exactly Colin’s situation or not. I don’t discriminate in any way about who will be the leads in our movies. I only look at actors and the characters they play and say, “Are these people that hold my eyes to the screen?” When I watch Colin on screen, he’s one of those guys that I want to watch. That’s all I’m looking for: somebody I want to spend two hours with in a dark room.

When the original came out, there was a lot of discussion about the violence level. What’s the violence level like in this film? What rating are you expecting?

The movie will have a PG-13 rating. In all the movies I’ve done, whether it’s the cars people drive or whether it’s the violence or whether it’s the language, in terms of cursing, if it’s organic to the movie, it’s fine for me. When I watch movies with product placement that doesn’t fit, or when I hear language that doesn’t really need to be there, it’s just there to prove a point, I don’t like that. I like whatever is organic to the world that we’ve created in this movie. I think this movie has an incredible amount of action and some violent action but it wasn’t about body count or, let’s see how many people we can kill.

Why did you choose to keep the title Total Recall and not the Philip K. Dick title?

It doesn’t fit on a marquee.

But this title links it with the old film and not the short story…

This movie is a combination of the two. It’s very similar to the original movie at its core concept but the mission of the movie is very different. What Colin is trying to do and stop is very different from what Arnold is trying to do and stop. The tone of the movie is probably closer to the Philip K. Dick story than it is to the tone of the last Recall.

Do you have a philosophy about remakes?

Everybody’s trying to remake everything and I think certain things are warranted and certain things aren’t. I guess you never know until you show it to an audience and they’ll be the first ones to tell you. In this particular case, people are very, very eager to see what we’ve done. God, I think in the first seventy-two hours when we released the first trailer there were like eighteen million views. I don’t think in all the movies I’ve done – and I’ve done close to five billion dollars – that we’ve had eighteen million views total on the trailer. There’s an incredible amount of anticipation for the movie. I hope we live up to that. I can tell you we’ve worked our butts off to make a great movie. This has been one of those experiences that has been good from the very beginning right up until now and I hope it finishes strong.

Do you read the blogs and comments online?

Anybody who says they don’t is lying. But I also realize that there is the mainstream people who are on the internet and then there’s the very small groups that we in Hollywood pay a lot of attention to but don’t really have that big of a voice. I’m more interested in what the mainstream is seeing and thinking about whatever we’re working on. The good news about the internet is that word spreads quickly and the bad news is that word spreads quickly. When we made the last Fast & Furious, there was a lot of cynicism until people saw the first footage. Once they saw the first footage, that cynicism changed like that and spread like wildfire. So there’s good and bad.

Are there any nods to the original in the film?

There are a few touchstones that we wanted to do. I think it’s fun. I think people are looking for that. They want to have fun with it. There’s a nostalgia to it. We discussed whether or not we should have a cameo from Arnold or Sharon Stone and we felt that was going too far. That could take you out of the movie and take us out of the reality we were trying to create.

How have you remained so successful in a business where so many producers come and go?

I love making movies and I love watching movies. I look at each one of these movies as a complete life experience. I get to immerse myself in whatever we’re doing. And I don’t like to fail so I work extremely hard at trying to make movies that I think are movies that will play worldwide and that I want to see. Any time I’ve tried to second-guess myself or any time I’ve done a movie because it was a good financial deal, those are the movies that have not worked for me. The movies that have worked for me are the movies that, at a gut level, when I first heard the idea or first read the script or first saw an actor or a director, those have always been the things with the best results for me. I just go with my gut. I don’t want to hear research. I want to go with what I think works for me.

Do you approach producing TV differently than film?

The Big C I did because I really love Laura Linney and I love the idea of something that had never been seen before on television. That was interesting to me. I think it was a clutter-buster and could get attention because of that. I only do things I really want to see myself, even though I go see every movie. If I could only make one kind of movie, those would be action movies because I like action movies. What I really like is that action movies are not boring to make. Every day there’s something exciting that keeps my attention. From Sweet Home Alabama to Cruel Intentions, we’ve made movies in a variety of different genres. Comedy isn’t necessarily my thing but 21 Jump Street turned out to be a big hit for us and I love the movie.

Can you foresee if a film is going to be a hit during production?

No. If I have a great experience it doesn’t mean the movie’s going to be great. If I have a terrible experience, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be bad. The only time I really know how a movie is going to do is when I put it in front of an audience for the first time.

Do you worry more about making a remake than a regular movie?

Can you do good or can you do better? That was the challenge. But I was confident enough in the people that we had working on this movie that we had something that we could make that was going to be special. I can tell you from the footage that we showed and the reaction that we’ve had to the trailer to this date, people are really, really interested in the movie.


Total Recall is released on DVD/Blu-ray December 26th.

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