Director Roland Emmerich knows how to blow humanity to smithereens. He did it in Independence Day, Day After Tomorrow and now 2012. We talked to the apocalypse-master himself, who explained that there are 8 simple rules for ending the world.
Make It Impossible
The first rule to come from the director was, make it impossible....
The rules are — what I always say but people forget — the pictures have to be super impossible. I'm only interested in doing the impossible image. That's really hard to explain. But one of the first things I saw in my mind, was the ground opening up. And I realized what that means, when the bottom falls out under your feet.
So far that sounds exactly right as just about every single scientist and critc has said that the general ideas behind these disaster movies are, literally, impossible. But come on — who doesn't want to see people running from frost?
Stick To What You Know: You Can Always Blow Up The White House Again
[If you are going to destroy something] It has to be very original, otherwise you don't do it. I remember at one point [during 2012 production] we were discussing what will happen with the White House [in 2012]. I said, "What should happen? I cannot destroy the White House again." And Harald [Kloser, screenwriter] said, "Well you have to, if you don't destroy it people will have the same question. Just come up with something new." ... I thought I could have this object crashing into the White House, because we knew that in one of the first waves we'd have to put objects in it so you could see how big it was and thought maybe tankers or war ships. Then we came up with image of [the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy crashing into the White House, which is like] JFK returns to the White House. I was reading about the Kennedy family a lot at the time and thought that was sort of ironic and interesting in a way.
You gotta respect a man who made a career of blowing up the White House, so much that if he doesn't do it we wonder why not? But honestly, we're running out of cities for this guy to destroy, and yet he still manages to crush them differently each time. One has to wonder if he'll be able to come up with more after this last disaster.
The More Characters The Better
Multi characters help you a lot because you can constantly keep the story moving. And people from all walks of life. Every audience member has different people they like in the movie and will follow them. These movies are so expensive that they have to work for pretty much everybody. For young people, for men and women. old people probably like Danny Glover, and Harry and Tony, the Jazz musicians. Kids get wrapped up in our two kids. Create characters so everyone in the audience has an identification figure.
I guess that means my character in 2012 is Woody Harrelson the conspiracy blogger, cause I like cartoons and pickles too. Look at me, I'm bonding with the story! Still I'd like to meet the people that relate to beautiful Vivca Fox, the heart-of-gold stripper who loves dolphins and has a Fighter Pilot for a boyfriend.
Superheroes Aren't Half As Cool As Earthquakes, Tornadoes And Waves
Who wants character-driven movies about confused anti-heroes in a near futuristic world fighting Oscar-winning villains? Not me. Give me Will Smith punching aliens and Bill Pullman's president speech any day.
Look at it like this. I'm a person who doesn't like superhero movies, just personally. I like some of them but I cannot really relate to a superhero. I have trouble with fantasy stories. And famous books — I write my own stuff, a famous book is really not an option for me. There's very little left in big movie genres. It's science fiction or it's disaster movies. And what is the most successful movie of all time? Titanic. And the best part of a disaster movie is: No sequel.
Cut Other Would-Be Disaster Porn Directors Off At The Knees
You have to be a tyrant about getting your end of the world movies made. This is why Emmerich is the King of the B grade blow em up movies, because he'll make it before you. Who wants to wait until 2012 to make 2012? Not this guy.
"First when we had the idea, I said, I'm not going to do it. I don't want to repeat myself. Then we heard inklings that other people were working on something like this, also with the title 2012. Then Harald [the screenwriter] said, "Someone else is going to do it. Don't you want to be the person to do it? Look at your movies: you are perfect for this. Make it your crowning achievement."
Be G-Rated Political *Winky Wink, Nudge Nudge*
If you've seen the five-minute clip from 2012, you know there is a Arnold-esque Governor in the film reassuring the people of California that everything is a-okay, after a mess of earthquakes rocked the town, to which John Cusack yells he's "just an actor, he's reading a script." Suddenly fake Arnold gets creamed with a few lights. Subtle, no? We asked the director if this was on purpose as in The Day After Tomorrow, when actor Kenneth Welsh was cast to be a Cheney look-alike. If you remember Welsh was a bit of a dick about the whole, "we're all gonna die," situation. Which Emmerich later confirmed was a dig at the Bush administration's environmental policies. Emmerich shrugged off our political questions:
"We kind of felt that not every politician should be on the ark. I don't know where these ideas come from. We have terrible fun with what we do."
Which I'm translating as: We lob softball politics at the audience, just so everyone feels good about themselves, for being in on the obvious political joke. I wonder what Emmerich would say his reasoning behind casting Glover as the president before we knew the results of this election. Or was it simply just another near-future "Neato, a black president!" moment?
For Every Wrinkled-Shirted Scientist, You Need At Least One Crazy Prophet
Dennis Quaid, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Jeffrey Goldblum may have messy hair, messy clothes, big ideas, and know all the facts. But they pale in comparison to their crazy counterparts: the homeless guy with the dog, spouting words of humanity, Woody Harrelson's crazy tree-hugger and the drunken pilot from Independence Day who knew there were aliens all along.
[Woody] came out of the fact that there are a lot of crazy people on the internet that believe a lot of crazy things about 2012, so we thought that we have to have a character like that. And then on the other hand we have to explain what the theories are like Earth Crust Displacement. How do you describe them in scientific terms. And we thought, we can have Woody tell the audience how this all works, with a little you tube.
But Make The Destruction Glamorously Terrible
Say what you will about the exceedingly cheesy work of Roland — you can't deny, when he slaughters millions of tiny CG specks that are supposed to be people, he does it with panache and style. It may be ridiculous, but it's beautiful. Which is why, no matter how cliche or repetitive these movies get, it will make millions opening week, because people want to see the great big wave number two come careening into New York City yet again, but on a big fat splodey screen. When it comes to disaster porn, we're all addicts.