John Gulager (Director - 'Piranha 3DD')
After the terror unleashed on Lake Victoria in 'Piranha 3D' (2010), the prehistoric school of bloodthirsty piranhas are back and this time, no one is safe from the flesh-eating fish as they sink their razor-sharp teeth into the visitors of summer's best attraction, The Big Wet Water Park.
Now with double the action, double the horror, and double the D's, 'PIRANHA 3DD' stars Danielle Panabaker, Matt Bush, David Koechner, Chris Zylka, Katrina Bowden, Gary Busey, Christopher Lloyd, and David Hasselhoff.
Chatting recently with director John Gulager, who also directed the 'Feast' horror movie trilogy, I first wondered what to call him?!
So, do I call you John Gulager or Johnny Gluegun?! "Well, my friend Sage, who just passed away put that up on IMDB. He just made it up. But it's that thing about being able to fix anything with hot glue. So, I actually had that taken down at one point, but he called and asked me to put it back up. So I did."
Were you just unhappy with the name? "No, but that would have been my porn name, I guess," he laughs. "But they wouldn't let me on a porn set. But if I named my movie it would be Hot Glue, I guess."
Watching the film I noticed that a lot of the girls seemed to have bruises on them! So, was it a demanding shoot at times for the cast? "Yeah, I was knocking them around some, you know. Doing the casting sessions ... no! Well, seriously, all these kind of movies are grueling, especially if you have to run around and fall over for hours. Even having to be in the pool and tread water for a few hours, it can get very cold. But, second of all, and depending which girls they are, some have other jobs. Some are other professional types. Certain jobs in which they might get bruised. Falling off the pole and such," he laughs.
Was it a real water park you took over to create The Big Wet? "It is, yes. It's a real water park in Wilmington, N.C. called Jungle Rapids. Originally, Marcus, Patrick and I went around Louisiana looking for water parks. We found one, but it was run by a Christian organization, so they wouldn't let us shoot there! Then we found another in Baton Rouge that was awesome, huge, and it had giant tangled slides that looked like arms. So we wrote all the water stuff for that park, but then they read the script and said no!"
"So then the search for a water park was on from Michigan to Florida and we ended up in North Carolina at Jungle Rapids. And they were so welcoming and we were so glad to be there. It was a lot smaller than we wanted though. Like a mom and pop park, literally. It did not have extensive rides and slides and stuff. So the story changed a little bit. And it was ours until the summer opening. We couldn't shoot too early in the season because it was too cold."
"At one time Dimension wanted to shoot the movie in January! So we had a limited time in order to shoot because once the season had started we had to stop. Because there were all sorts of legal reasons with the water and being open to the public. A lot of environmental problems and such."
Hearing that I'm surprised that you were then allowed to add all that 'blood' to the pools!! "Well, yes, we did have a huge problem with the blood. At one point they told us we couldn't put any blood in the water because it takes five days to drain and filter the pool. So, we didn't realize that. And we were just about to start and so we got this special blood from Shark Night that they used. It [the blood] can mix with the chlorine each time and then after a while it will turn clear. So we were sort of just depending on that. Otherwise we would have just been up sh*t creek, you know!"
"I mean, if you can imagine going into a movie like this where you're expecting to have a giant hose of blood and you're told no, you can't use any blood in these pools! You'll have to put it in digitally somehow! But I've tried that digital way and it just doesn't work. Especially when the colors are the same. Like the blue of the water and the side of the pool. They are the same color so you can't separate them."
Would you say that Piranha 3DD was a direct sequel to 2010's Piranha 3D or simply another version? "Another version. I mean, it is a sequel though. Actually, the design of the piranha's slightly changed too. In the beginning of the whole process there were a lot of legal problems though. So there was always this 'It's a sequel,' 'No, it's not a sequel,' 'Yes, it's now a sequel' talk. And then it was 'The piranha's have to look the same,' and then it was, 'No, the piranha's have to look different.' And eventually all that stuff got worked out, but not until mini versions of the script had made the rounds. In one case the studio got really mad and gave us a script with no piranha in it at all! And you'd be like what the f**k?! And then there was another version without any nudity!"
"So, Marcus and Patrick just called it Piranha's. So there were all these different versions that were making the rounds because there were so many people worried they weren't gonna get the legal rights to do what it was they wanted to do. That's just the way movies get made, especially sequels. It was definitely kinda eye-opening on that level. I'd never been involved with that part of it before."
Which moments in the shoot gave you the most problems to capture? "Well, the very first scenes, with Gary on the lake were tough. Gary is just, extreme. Very extreme. But it did kinda bring all the cast and crew together somewhat with one idea. But nobody drowned Gary, so that was okay," he laughs.
"So that was tough. And just working out some of the kinks and stuff like that throughout the movie. And also, in general, the hardest thing about making a movie like this is the lack of time. You just always want more. But then sometimes the things that you shoot on a fluke become your favorite things. And the things that you worked on for hours and hours become the things you cut out the movie, you know."
Well, I would imagine those 3D cameras are heavy to shoot with? So did it make any of the action sequences awkward to get in and film? "Those 3D cameras were kinda like going back to the '50s. They were huge. There's two end cameras in a casing with mirrors; like a prism to shoot through. Because one is inverted, one is vertical and one is going straight so that you can get the lenses actually closer than they can actually get. Because you have to get them almost overlapping each other. So that the 3D doesn't make your brain explode!"
"So there's this guy Max, who's the Stereographer and he sticks his head under this black cloth, kinda like the old photographers who had their 8x10 cameras. So he'd be back there under the cloth, much like the Wizard all day. Basically, it always had to be on some kind of pedestal. Whether it was a techno crane or a dolly. And we also had a slightly smaller version for underwater which used the silicon imaging cameras, because the red camera housing was so huge we had to use the smaller cameras."
"But every now and again we could take that out and use it for some handheld shots. But that was rare as everything takes such a looooooong time! And it gave us less of that war-like approach and more of a stable camera creeping in approach. I enjoy that kind of thing especially when people are talking. Especially in 3D as that kind of allows you to see the 3D in even normal shots."
And with regard some close up 3D camera work underwater, I think you all did amazingly well; given that your lead actor, Danielle Panabaker didn't like being near water let alone under it! "Yeah, that was a little tough. I think in the end I don't know how I would have been able to go underwater and breathe out of a tube. Because she finally was able to do that. We shot a lot of the underwater stuff at the end of the movie. We shot all top of the water stuff, and there was some stuff in the pool, but a lot of it was done later; in the last couple of days."
"We'd had some pools around town that we dressed to look like when she's swimming through all the bushes and seaweed. And also when the guys are walking underwater. And also the piranha under the dock and also Clu and Gary walking through the water with a flashlight. And her diving into the water and drowning and all that kind of stuff was also done at the end. And we got some great underwater guys, the safety guys who worked with her extensively. To help her be comfortable underwater, to be able to swim, because for a lot of it she had to be in very deep water."
"Now, at the very, very end where she actually drowns it's actually only just right under her head. She could just stand right up out of the water as she's in the shallow end. But we had a body double that was pulled down on a rope, for when she's slammed against the bottom like she's being sucked into the drain. And that was in a deep area and so there's a guy just off camera with a breathing apparatus that she can take the air from. She'll stay there as long as she can and then she gives a little signal. And eventually Danielle, and Matt; as he wasn't eager to get into the water either, they both evidently have problems seeing. Like Danielle wears contacts but she couldn't really see anything underwater, I realized later. At first I thought she was just pulling my leg trying to get out of it, but I found out she had like +90 contacts, or something like that. Something that's very big, I guess! So she couldn't see where she was swimming. So that became a little irritating to her too. So yeah, it was an underwater movie where none of the kids were really into swimming," he laughs.
The death of the young boy at the end was a COMPLETE surprise to me - well done! "Oh good, 'cause I thought everybody could see what was about to happen. So that's good. Yeah, it always got a good response, but actually some of the people that worked on the film weren't really into that scene! I always saw that as the most joyous moment, you know. Where everybody should cheer and the music comes up. I also love Hasselhoff's last line there. That kind of quiet line he mutters just before the down beat. And that kid was great. My God, he was like one of those 9 year-old / 40 year-old guys. He was really into it. And the mom, the worst mom in the world: 'Mom, I got bit ... no you didn't, just go get a band aid'!"
As the door has been left open for a sequel, as these things have now got legs will you be directing the proposed 'Piranha 4 - On Dry Land'?! "No, no, nothing like that yet. And I don't even know if there will be one. It all depends on how well the DVD sells, and that kind of thing. But, you never know."
How do I get one of those Piranha fish eggs?! "I know, right. I have one. I tell you what I wish we'd made Superballs out of those things. That would have been awesome. Especially at the premiere. Just throwing them out into the audience. They were clear so when you dropped them into the water they became translucent. So they are different to what they are when they're out of the water. They were real neat."
I think that the inclusion of Gary Busey, David Hasselhoff, and the return of Ving Rhames, Paul Scheer and Christopher Lloyd made it just palatable enough to be cheesy without taking itself too seriously. So please tell us a little something about working with each of these guys:
Gary Busey - "Well, he just didn't want to be there in all that water in that lake. It was still kinda chilly in the air and he and my dad were both out there in the middle of this lake. And they're both getting up there. Gary's not a spring chicken either, you know. I also got the idea that he didn't like to be involved with anything sexual. Which is kinda funny given that this was Piranha 3DD! But, if it was words it was fine, but any kind of physical thing he was not into that. Other than that I think Gary's a great actor. Mostly the weird, over the top characters, but he can probably do anything."
"Gary was so funny though, because we would have this lantern that was there on the side of the dock. And we would keep moving it around in the water because we couldn't really have them go out into the lake. We had to keep doing it by the side of the lake. So they had to keep pretending they were walking out into the lake. So we had the lantern there, but we also had all our chairs and everything up in the video village area. And he would be meant to run back through the water straight, but he kept veering over to his chair. So I'd keep telling him to run towards the light and he'd be like, 'Yeah, yeah, I got it.' And yet he'd keep running, veering over to the chairs still - and sitting down!"
"And then he didn't even want to go into the water. I'd be telling him he had to go into the water and he'd be like, 'Nope, I'm not gonna do it.' So I'd tell him we wanted the fish on his face and that the only way it was gonna happen was with him in the water. And then he was like, 'Okay, I'll do it once.' So he goes underwater and we get the shot and the DP says we have to do it again 'cause we got this flare in there. So, I told Gary we had to do it again because of the flare. And he says, 'Flare, I've never gotten a flare. I've never had a flare.' So, after a while he did it again, but it was like that all night long."
David Hasselhoff - "Yeah, well, this was the thing with Hasselhoff. You mention something for him to do and he'd be like 'Oh no, I don't want to do that.' Then you'd mention it again and he'll get ready to do it. Like when he was up in his hotel room, I needed him to have that glass that looked like whiskey or something in his hand with the ice. Because I liked the sound of the ice in the glass. But he's going through this whole thing where he's supposed to be on the wagon. So he didn't want to be drinking in the movie. But he needed to be drinking, as I loved the sound of the ice when he moved! But then he says he'll do it."
"It was then we realized that it was kind of a common thread with David because so many people have punked him so many times. But he was actually great. He writes me all the time. He wants a piranha! I have one, but mine's beat to hell," he laughs. "Like some of the paint has come off and one of the fins has come off. There is a great big one though. I was at Comic Con this year for about an hour and there was this giant piranha that was for sale there for quite a bit of money," he laughs. "There's always a prop house behind those kind of things."
Ving Rhames - "Well, the first thing is Ving was never actually in the movie originally, right. But, he called me up and left a message saying we never saw him die in Piranha 3D. So, we wrote a scene with Ving coming to the water park with Paul [Scheer]. So yeah, I guess the story was changed around to where Ving was the pussy, but I just love that line where he says, 'Bring me my legs!' To me that was one of the best lines in the movie. And it's such a stupid movie, but it's just so sad and earnest that the guy who's gonna save everybody has no legs. But it's just part of Piranha 3DD, silly or not."
"But I have to tell you he wasn't so into it. A lot of people they want to be in a movie but they're not so really into it when they're there. And so we kinda of deal with it later."
Your dad gets some more screen time, this time as an unlucky farmer out looking for a lost cow. But was he more concerned with the water temperature and late night shoot or working alongside Gary Busey?! "Both," he laughs. "Look, we're huge fans of Gary Busey because we love the Buddy Holly Story. And dad worked with Gary on My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys, they're both from Oklahoma and Gary grew up watching dad. But at the same time there's been this gap somewhere between Silver Bullet and now. Where he had a motorcycle accident and he's been on all these reality TV shows, that I totally missed."
"And so dad's like 83, getting up there, and really gets into learning his lines. So he works it all out meticulously on how he's gonna say his lines and then Gary decided we didn't need scripts! Because it turned out he didn't learn his lines! [It's at this time that John puts on his best Gary Busey impression to deliver the following Busey-spoken lines]: 'I don't need a script. I am the script. I don't need a script to tell me who I am. I am who I am. I am the part.' So then my dad was totally panicked because he didn't want to look like an idiot in front of everybody, because he couldn't always remember the lines. So that was happening."
"Plus they were out in this water and they had these rubber fishing suits on. But to keep them from drowning they sliced the back of the suits down so that they would drain out when they would keep coming back out of the water. So, even though they're in the water the whole time they're not protected from the water because the water is in the suit. And so if you're in the water for a certain period of time it just gets cold. Your body temperature changes to a certain point and you start shivering. So the combination of everything was a little taxing on my dad."
There was an enormous list of sponsors for this film, such as Pepsi, Red Bull, Tumi, Activist Eyewear, etc. but were they all definitely in the actual final cut of the movie? "Yeah, I think the product placement aspect, like Pepsi and all those kind of things are definitely in there. Like when they're stalking the little snack shack that would be all the drinks and stuff there. One of the funnier ones was this thing called Purple Oil, or something. That was everywhere. And we thought it was made up by the art department, but it turned out it was a real motor oil. But their signs were up everywhere around the park. But yeah, evidently all that stuff is in there somewhere. But a lot of the time they just do this to get free props and stuff. Turn it into a little business. There's actually a department that deals with that kind of stuff, you know. It's fine as it's not too insane and it didn't bother me as we needed drinks and sunglasses as props."
The 'Laughing Diarrhea Baby,' mentioned by Christopher Lloyd's character is an Internet neologism given to a viral video of a baby that was mentioned in Piranha 3DD. But the actual YouTube video is a let down! Did you guys put it up there? "So you're saying we should have made that, eh?"
Well, somebody did, and tagged Piranha 3DD in it! "I'm gonna do that now," he says mid-interview, as he suddenly goes quiet on the other end of the phone. He then reads off a bunch of these 'Laughing Diarrhea Baby' video tag lines, before playing a few of them too! After a couple of minutes, and a dropped line, he is finally back on track. "I don't think that is from the company. You know, people just put things up. It's like what they do on IMDB. All these people that were supposed to be in the film, they aren't! They do things like this sometimes. All these extras suddenly give themselves character names. Which is fine really, I don't care. But I always think it's weird when people put up names that aren't even in the film and give them whole names. It's just strange."
Being that you are also the director of the 'Feast' trilogy, will there be a 'Feast 4' anytime soon? "I don't think so," he chuckles. "Unless they find more money, because we had this other version actually. Different scenes that were supposed to be in Feast 2 and Feast 3, but it just became too much, too expensive and so it became what it was. So there's a whole lot left over. It was supposed to be in Feast 3, but Marcus and Patrick have it now."
Finally, we here at Exclusive Magazine love Penguins (the bird) ... do you, perhaps? "Not that I want to tell," he says sheepishly, with an obvious smile brewing. "I finally watched March of the Penguins the other day which I thought was pretty awesome. Because I always have to take the place of the camera man out there doing this. And that was so great to watch. It's just so out there. And how he got some of those shots is pretty amazing."
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
'Piranha 3DD' Official Trailer
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