National Treasure - Press Archive - Hollywood Reporter

 

Source: Hollywood Reporter
January 21, 2004


Disney plans Thanksgiving 'Treasure' hunt
By Martin A. Grove

Turteltaub talk: With the New Year's first holiday, Martin Luther King
weekend, already history, Hollywood's looking forward to the really big
boxoffice bumps linked to Memorial Day, July Fourth and Thanksgiving.
 
While Thanksgiving seems far off, it's very real these days at Disney's
Touchstone Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer Films where the action adventure
"National Treasure" is now in production and looms as a potential
Thanksgiving blockbuster when it opens Nov. 24. Directed by Jon Turteltaub
and starring Nicolas Cage, "Treasure" is produced by Bruckheimer (whose
"Pirates of the Caribbean" grossed over $305 million domestically via
Buena Vista/Disney) and Turteltaub. Also starring are Justin Bartha,
Diane Kruger, Sean Bean, Harvey Keitel, Jon Voight, Christopher Plummer,
Don McManus and Mark Pellegrino.
 
"Treasure's" story revolves around Benjamin Franklin Gates (Cage), an
eighth generation archaeologist-historian searching for treasure buried by
America's founding fathers. Gates discovers a map leading to the treasure
has been hidden for 200 years on the reverse side of the Declaration of
Independence. Unfortunately, Gates isn't the only one who knows about the
map. He ends up having to steal the Declaration to protect it from villains so
desperate to unearth the money they'd destroy the priceless document to
get it.
 
An extensive list of prominent writers worked in various combinations on
"Treasure's" screenplay over a period of years, including Jim Kouf,
Marianne Wibberly, Cormac Wibberly, Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel, Ted
Elliott and Terry Rossio. The film's executive producers are Mike Stenson,
Chad Oman, Barry Waldman, Christina Steinberg, Oren Aviv and Charles
Segars.
 
Focusing recently on "Treasure" with Turteltaub, whose credits include four
Disney hits -- "While You Were Sleeping," "Phenomenon," "Cool Runnings"
and "3 Ninjas" -- I observed that when I talk to filmmakers who've already
wrapped production they've usually forgotten many of the challenges they
had to deal with at the time. "You're right, when you look back you tend
to forget all the bad and remember only the good," he told me. "When you're
in it, you're only aware of the bad. You don't even notice the good."
 
In the case of "Treasure," Turteltaub pointed out, "Like any movie, it's
filled with all the kinds of production challenges that you're dealing with.
It's a huge movie. We're dealing with five different cities. We're dealing
with historical landmarks and sensitive locations because of security reasons
and post-9/11 worries. But that contains also a thrill. As difficult as it is to
get permission and to deal with things like shooting in and around the
National Archives or inside Independence Hall in Philadelphia, once you work
it all out and you get in there you realize you're standing in the belfry where
the Liberty Bell once stood. It gets exciting at that point."
 
Besides Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia, he said, the production's
other locations are "New York, L.A. and somewhere that looks like the Arctic
(and as we were speaking) it's probably going to be Utah. We started
shooting in September (and should finish in late January) and it has been
extraordinarily complicated to shoot -- everything from just the scope of
what we're trying to do to having to delay shooting a week because at 40
years old I got the chickenpox. We have had what turned out to be the
huge privilege of shooting in D.C. and in Philadelphia at historic places.
We've reconstructed the rotunda for the National Archives on a stage at
Disney, which is just a gorgeous and extraordinary set. They didn't feel
comfortable (at the National Archives) having a film crew two feet from
the actual Declaration of Independence. And I have to say I can't blame
them because I don't want to be the guy who spilled his coffee on it."
 
With the actual Declaration not available, a replica was created for the
movie. "Probably the best thing about being a director -- after the ability to
talk to girls at parties -- is that you become an expert in something with
every movie you make," Turteltaub said. "You learn about bob sledding or
you learn about gorillas or you learn about American history. The amount
of research we did into the actual Declaration of Independence, itself, became
so fascinating and so (much) fun for us in finding things out that not only
I never knew but that the public doesn't even know (like) if you look carefully
at the front of it there's a handprint of somebody's greasy hand that was
placed on the document at one point.
 
"Written on the back it says, 'The original Declaration of Independence,
July 4, 1776.' What a crazy thing to write on the back on the Declaration of
Independence, but it's written there because they used it for cataloguing
and things like that. So when we had to recreate our own because they
weren't so happy to give us theirs, you have to find out all these tiny details
to get it right. To me one of the indications of the success of this movie
will be when people go visit the real Declaration of Independence at the
National Archives in Washington and they get an extra thrill because it's
what they saw in the movie. Sometimes things become more real having
seen them on TV or in the movies (than when) they just see them on their
own. If we can make people more excited about these real artifacts and
places in American history, then we'll have a successful movie."
 
Focusing on the film's treasure hunt story, he said, "It's fun. What happens
when your map is more valuable than your treasure? As rich as it is in
history and as big as it is in terms of (being) an adventure movie, the
movie also plays as a comedy, as well. Nic is extremely funny in the film.
There's a lot of comedy in it. I knew I was hired for a reason. I think with
the success Jerry had with 'Pirates' it became pretty clear that you can make
movies that appeal to adults and kids at the same time (and) that can be
romantic and humorous and have action all at once."
 
Production began in Washington, D.C., Turteltaub explained, "because
we needed to start on locations before fall happened and the leaves
changed. So it's one of those things where nature's dictating a shooting
schedule. We began by shooting sequences on the streets of D.C. Our
first night was beginning with Nic Cage walking out of the National Archives
having stolen the Declaration of Independence. It's pretty exciting to be
standing on locations with the Capitol glowing behind you and the really
glorious strength of D.C. It's a beautiful city. We leapt in with night
shooting and action. A lot of movies think you've got to start slowly, but
at this point in everyone's career the crews are so experienced and the
cast is so experienced you can start in the middle and everyone's okay."
As a result, filming was able to begin with a key sequence in the film.
 
When I asked Turteltaub to tell me about what I assumed were long days
in production, he replied, "Long days are not as bad as long nights. We
started by working a lot of long nights. Surprisingly, Washington, D.C.
is a ghost town at 9 o'clock at night, but it gets really busy at 6 o'clock
in the morning. We had a lot of night shooting. We began there and just
crammed as much in as we could into as many nights as we could. The
city is beautiful at night, but it's still complicated. Absolutely everything is
complicated right now in Washington, D.C. Yet, if you have good
production people they manage to make things work.
 
"We started working on this project six or seven years ago and sequences
that were written pre-9/11 don't work now. It's not as easy to have a
car chase in front of the White House as it was six years ago. The entire
security system for the National Archives has been updated so what was
accurate in the script three years ago had to be completely rewritten to
be what's accurate in the script for reality right now."
 
Asked how the project came about, Turteltaub explained, "A very close
friend of mine, Oren Aviv (Buena Vista Pictures marketing president) and
a creative partner of his had the original idea for the movie. I've known
Oren forever. He had a great idea for something to do with the Declaration
of Independence and a theft and all of that stuff. So we started developing
the idea within my production company at Disney and got it to the point
where we had a pretty good script, but it wasn't ready to be made.
Sometimes you just know a movie's not quite ready to go. The project
was also so much huger than anything I had done with the scale of it
and the amount of action in it. Jerry Bruckheimer had read the script
and liked it. And I thought, well, 'I'd be an idiot not to have a partner
like Jerry on this movie.' So Jerry and I decided to do it together.
 
"We've basically been developing it and writing script after script to get
it right. I've never had a project that was as tricky and as complicated
and as difficult to crack as this because we're dealing with reality and truth
and mystery and historical accuracy. Trying to keep things accurate and
entertaining at the same time is tough. I learned the importance of doing
it when I did 'From the Earth to the Moon' for Tom Hanks," he said, recalling
HBO's award winning 10-part 1998 mini-series about America's conquest of
the moon. Turteltaub directed episode seven "That's All There Is" about
the crew of Apollo 12, receiving a Directors Guild of America nomination
for outstanding directorial achievement in movies for television.
 
Working on that mini-series, he noted, "gave me a sense of integrity with
history when telling a (story that is) fiction. When you add to it anytime
you're writing a mystery and a caper, you have to be very careful with the
details of your story. On top of which, when you're dealing with an action
film and an adventure film and a treasure hunt, you have a lot of cliches
you get to embrace, but more so you have cliches you need to avoid.
The biggest problem we ran into, really, in some ways was that 'Raiders
of the Lost Ark' is one of the most perfect movies ever made. So how do
you not do something perfect? You have to keep looking for something
different. Yet everything they did was so good, it's so far to avoid it. So
it just took a lot of time to keep finding newer innovative ways of doing
things that hadn't been done."
 
When Turteltaub and I spoke he was preparing to shoot scenes at Knott's
Berry Park in Buena Park, Calif. just south of Los Angeles. "By odd luck,
they have a perfect replica of Independence Hall," he said. "Who knew?
So rather than fly for five hours we get to drive for five hours and shoot
in that building where we don't upset the Parks Dept. or the thousands
of tourists that go to Independence Hall a day. And we don't have to worry
that if we drop something we might break Ben Franklin's chair. We did
some interiors and all the exteriors in Philadelphia, but we're going to
go down to Knott's Berry Park to grab a whole bunch of interiors. After
that, we'll be on stages at Disney and Universal...and then we'll go out
to Utah (for the Arctic scenes) and New York.
 
"You know, with all these locations not one of them was Canada. The
movie, itself, is about historical accuracy. Nic Cage is a treasure hunter
with a great amount of knowledge of American history. It felt really wrong
on an artistic level, a creative level, to start faking Canada for the United
States. You will not see Toronto for New York in this movie."
 
How difficult was it to get Cage to star in "Treasure?" "I think like any
smart actor he didn't just jump in without questions and without meetings
and without curiosity about the tone, the style and all the elements we'd
need," Turteltaub answered. "That being said, he has a great track record
with Jerry (including such hits as 'The Rock,' 'Con Air' and 'Gone in Sixty
Seconds") and I've known Nic for 20 years. We were all instantly
comfortable with each other. So it was sort of an easy match for everybody.
We all kind of knew this was the right thing for all of us right away."
 
Of course, when "Treasure's" big action scenes were filmed in Washington,
special attention had to be paid to making sure no one confused the movie
action with real-life. "We did have to be careful with the action sequences
to make sure people knew this wasn't a real gun fight happening at any
of these locations," he said. "Especially when you're in Washington, D.C.,
if you start firing guns on the street they want to know exactly what's
happening."
 
Not surprisingly, the filmmakers were a magnet for tourists. "We shot
on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and there were about 500 tourists
there, all of whom came to see one of the greatest presidents who's ever
lived -- and all 500 of them were watching Nicolas Cage the whole time.
Lincoln got absolutely no attention."
 
Having climbed the Lincoln Memorial's steep steps myself, I asked
Turteltaub how they managed to get all the heavy filmmaking equipment
they needed up there. "One of the things I really respected about the
Parks Department -- it's the Department of the Interior -- (is that) we were
allowed to shoot on the steps, but only so far. We were not allowed to
film in and around the Memorial next to Lincoln. They want to preserve
the sacred nature of the location (so) that there is something of a
conceptual hallowed ground to it. What it ended up doing (is) after we
got over our initial Hollywood ego of, 'How dare they tell us we can't
shoot there? Don't they know we're big shot Hollywood people?' it actually
gave us respect and a sense of awe for where we were, which translated
into the performances and the actors and how we shot and how we behaved.
 
"We also shot in the Library of Congress, which very few people have been
to. I can say it may be one of the most extraordinary interiors of any
building I've ever seen. It's stunning. No one goes and it is extraordinary.
But when you're shooting in something that beautiful, you become aware
of the gravity of what you're doing, which really worked well for the movie."
 
Needless to say, all of this doesn't come cheaply. Asked what he thinks
"Treasure" will cost in ballpark numbers, Turteltaub joked, "$70 billion --
but with video, we'll be fine! You know what? The number is always less
than you need, but more than you can believe. It's a lot. I remember
when 'True Lies' came out. I think it was the first movie to cost over
$100 million. There was an enormous amount of controversy over it and
Arnold Schwarzenegger said, 'What are people getting so upset about?
If we want to spend $100 million to entertain you, shouldn't you be happy?'
So as we approached that number, my feeling is, 'Look what an effort
we're making to make a good movie.'"
 
As with any movie, a lot of what's being spent is being paid as salaries to
a long list of cast and crew members and was pumped into the local
economies where filming took place. "And you know with Jerry the money
ends up on the screen," Turteltaub pointed out. "He is extraordinary with
pushing to make sure (those dollars are on the screen). One of the
reasons I wanted to work with Jerry is that he wouldn't ever allow me to
not make a good movie. He does everything in his power to make sure he
makes the best movie he can make. That's all you ever want from a
producer."
 
Martin Grove is seen Mondays at 9:30 a.m., PT on CNN FN's "The Biz" and
is heard weekdays at 1:55 p.m. on KNX 1070 AM in Los Angeles.

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