John Daly (Director)
'The Petersburg-Cannes Express'
"From Russia With Love"
John Daly, the renowned Hollywood producer who was responsible for winning 2 Best Picture Best Picture Oscars for the films ’Platoon’ and ’The Last Emperor’, will open his Russian revolution romantic drama ’The Petersburg-Cannes Express’ on September 19th in select theatres. ’The Petersburg-Cannes Express’, a film of elegance, romance and set in one of the most turbulent periods of history - the outbreak of the Russian revolution - stars Nolan Hemmings (’Band of Brothers’ and son of British actor David Hemmings), Svetlana Lunkina (Bolshoi Ballet star in ’Giselle’), Ksenia Alferova and Jay Benedict (’Star Wars’).
’The Petersburg-Cannes Express’ tells the story of Sophie (Svetlana Lunkina), an idealistic revolutionary who is being held in prison for assassinating the Czar’s chief judge while he was vacationing in Cannes. Her comrades in St. Petersburg know time is running out for her and desperately need a plan. They turn to the brilliant Alexie Tolchev (Nolan Hemmings), who comes up with an outrageous scheme to kidnap the chief prosecutor, who is a passenger on the Petersburg-Cannes Express train - and who on his way to extradite Sophie, imprisoned in Cannes. Alexie plans to impersonate the prosecutor, which, he then believes will give him the opportunity to save Sophie from extradition from France.
Mr. Daly, who heads Miracle Entertainment and co-owns Hemdale Film Corporation recently took some time out with me to discuss this wonderful new film. But first, as we are both British and both come from London, we actually begun the interview chatting about the previous weekends English soccer results before we eventually knuckled down to the movie at hand!
At times, this film came across to me as a Buster Keaton caper due to the antics in chase scenes and the music, but was it initially conceived as that? ”Well, yes, it does go into that, because I thought it was a bit difficult to take that story line and make it a really very serious, serious film. It is a serious subject, of course, the Revolution, but firstly it was meant to be romantic whether there’s a bit of fun thrown in or not. But I didn’t want people to think that this was some really big heavy piece that we were dong. So yeah, there were a few buster Keaton moments in the picture especially with the Console and his assistant and the wife and everything. So we got a chance to go a little bit lighter with the story. But, there was always a sort of undertone of slight seriousness about it.”
Why this movie and why now? ”I thought we would be better off filming a PG picture as I think audiences have had a big share of explosions and deaths this summer. I think they’ve been fully satisfied with that and the news of Iraq everyday and so the last thing we wanted to do was make another action picture, so to speak.”
Was there a reason for the exact same piece of music coming to the fore each time something Keaton-ish occurred on the screen?! ”I don’t know, but there are two or three scenes in the picture where different music is playing. There’s the love scene and then there’s the opening scene where they’re playing with the engine getting everything ready, but I think in many movies you do see a sort of variance of the same. I think ‘Out of Africa’ and ‘Chariots of Fire’ all had a running theme, but they may have had them differently disguised,” he laughs. ”Maybe we disguised him[Hemmings] very good, but not the music!”
Where was this movie filmed and how long did it take? ”It was all filmed in St. Petersburg. I shot there for about seven weeks and then I had a couple of months to prepare the picture. The locations had been there hundreds of years and so I was very lucky to be able to shoot scenes that were so spectacular.”
What was the hardest part of the shoot? ”The hardest part of shooting was getting through the day with a Russian crew and getting them to have the same logic as you! The Russians have a different logic, I hate to say as it may come across as me making them out to be bad, but it’s true. For instance, if I needed 100 people to shoot a station scene they would tell me at 11 O’clock that 20 were already on their way and the next 20 were about to be made up,” he laughs. ”So, as you can see by the end of the day I probably got my 10 cents worth and my full 100 come about 6 O’clock in the evening,” he continues to laugh.
So, any behind-the-scenes secrets or funny stories to tell?! ”The most funniest thing was when the production assistant told me that,” he breaks into helpless laughter again, ”as I’m hopping around asking where my extras are for a particular scene, he told me that they were stuck in a traffic jam … but don’t worry as we’ve sent someone in a car to get them! It was very Irish at times,” he belly laughs.
So, ‘The Petersburg-Cannes Express’ was originally a book published in 1975 by Hans Koning, but how much was kept the same for this movie version? ”Yeah, the story was from the book, but it was never meant to be something real heavy. But, I think we pretty much went along the way of the book. I mean the whole train, the revolutionaries not having tickets and going without passports, that’s all threaded through the story in the book, but I think we took a little bit of dramatic license with the ending,” he now gently laughs again.
Isn’t it just plain ‘creepy’ how alike Nolan Hemmings is to the young version of his father, David Hemmings?! ”It was like dealing with David on set sometimes,” he emphatically agrees. ”In fact, I called him David an awful lot of times! You just couldn’t tell the difference. It was just like a continual flashback!”
Having started Hemdale Film Corp. with David Hemmings in '67, did you ever envision back then that you would be taking another generation of Hemmings along for the movie-making ride? ”No, not at all. I think every year has been a new event. You don’t go on calendar years unfortunately when you’re in the film industry. You go on what was the last release, or the last picture, or what’s the next picture and the next production. So, you sort of give up your Christmases and your December the 31st and so I’ve always treated every year as being, well, where’s the next picture going! It’s been like that for the last 30 years since we got Hemdale going. Through all our successes and its drawbacks, which there were some,” he wryly smiles.
You’ve achieved 21 Oscar Nominations with 13 Oscar wins, but is there still an Oscar goal or an award-winning goal in sight that has yet to be obtained? ”I think so, yes. I think the type of material that one sort of looks for is not really your run-of-the-mill picture’s that come out of Hollywood. Those ones are bigger, huge budgets with huge stars and I think the independents, whether it’s us, they’ll always be the feeding ground of the future for actors, for directors, for screen-writers and I think that’s where our heart is and has been always. So, we’re now in a position to green-light young filmmakers’ films and hopefully there will be some awards generated over the next few years.”
Finally, what’s next for you? ”Our next is called ‘Red Giants’ which will be about Serquei Pavlovich Koreolov, who was a wonderful rocket designer in Russia who suffered the same fate as a lot of famous people. He was put into a Siberian prison camp, but never gave up hope and when Germany threatened Russia, Stalin wanted to know how, what and where were all his scientists - only to find out they were all where he’d had them put! So, he was then told that there was only the one man who could perhaps build a whole rocket empire for them, if that’s the words they used, and so he had Koreolov released … only to put him into a softer prison! At the same time you’re watching a young man being born and you see flashes of the little boy growing up and what you’re then seeing is how the paths of these two giants of space are going to meet up. One being Serquei Pavlovich Koreolov and the other being Yuri Gagarin who reaches his dream which was to put the first man into Space. And we see that happen.”
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
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