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An Interview with Jon Turteltaub, Director of The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Disney's most loyal director discusses his fantastical newest adventure and spectacle filmmaking at large


Is it a strange coincidence that Jay Baruchel has a slight resemblance to Mickey Mouse? How did he get the role of Dave?

Jon Turteltaub: No, it's not a coincidence at all. They're actually related.

There's a scene where Balthazar hands Dave a pair of old shoes.
Do you have a pair of trusty shoes you enjoy wearing?

Jon Turteltaub: This is the most common question I get. Not a day goes by that I'm not asked this. And yes, I do. But they've changed over the years. The fatter I get the more I look for trusty shoes with no laces.

What type of extra features do you enjoy and look for on Blu-rays?

Jon Turteltaub: For me, the best "extra" you get on Blu-ray is the picture quality. that's really the best part of it.

Would you be happy making every movie with Nicolas Cage and Jerry Bruckheimer?

Jon Turteltaub: I would be happy working with them forever... but not on every movie. Nor would they want to do every movie with me. It would get artistically stilted and dull. Part of the joy of movie-making is the collaborative nature of the art. That means that we are constantly getting good ideas from all the different people around us. If you always work with the same people you stop finding different ideas.

You guys did such a nice job of making modern day Manhattan seem like a place where magic could actually happen. How did you pick and choose where and when you were going to shoot?

Jon Turteltaub: The boring answer is that practical considerations play a huge role. The script dictates most of it.... the action that is needed to take place, etc. And permission has to be given by untold numbers of people to shoot in any given location. So, we end up at the best place possible, not the best place period. That said, we were looking for places that had something uniquely beautiful but also definitively New York. We wanted iconic New York imagery, but to see a new side of it. For example, subways feel very New York.... subways with wolves on them is special.

Balthazar (Nicolas Cage) teaches Dave (Jay Baruchel) in the magical arts.

Did Shadowrun influence The Sorcerer's Apprentice at all?

Jon Turteltaub: What's Shadowrun? (Did I just insult somebody? I don't know what that is.)

Everyone loves the National Treasure films, so did you feel pressure because of this prior to making The Sorcerer's Apprentice?

Jon Turteltaub: As someone once said to me, "If you think there's a lot of pressure to follow up on a hit, try following up on a flop." The success of the National Treasure films gave me confidence and breathing room. It also helped build my trust and camaraderie with Nic and Jerry. (And not everyone loved National Treasure, believe me.)

What do you think animation brings to live-action films?

Jon Turteltaub: Animation takes away instant creativity but replaces it with methodical and calculated creativity. It also allows you to "fix it later" in some ways. But most of all, animation releases boundaries. You are not limited by physics, shooting schedules, or safety. You can do whatever you want!

Did you have to consult any experts on Arthurian legends, to get the Merlin backstory accurate?

Jon Turteltaub: Yes. And guess what? They all disagree. There are so many different interpretations of this story.... particularly when we tried to get a clear answer to the question "How did Merlin die?" Unfortunately, the most common answer involved an incident we couldn't show in a Disney movie.

Were you hoping to again shake current expectations of a family film on this?

Jon Turteltaub: You know, at this point, I think we're no longer shaking expectations but trying to meet the new and improved expectations. Audiences now expect quite a lot from family films. There is a weird, undefined line between a family film and a kid's film. It's hard to say what that is but we all know it when we see it. The goal is to avoid making a kid's film. This was actually a much bigger challenge 30 years ago. [Steven] Spielberg and [George] Lucas were the ones who broke this mold... and faced a huge amount of criticism for it. Jaws and Star Wars were written off as kiddie films by a lot of people and it took ages for either of those guys to get the respect they deserved as filmmakers.

Alfred Molina has had such a successful and varied career. Can you please talk about what led you to cast him in this movie?

Jon Turteltaub: Jerry [Bruckheimer] told me to! And I'm glad he did... not just because he is brilliant in the movie but because he's become such a close friend. Jerry had just used Fred on Prince of Persia so he was aware of how versatile, funny and powerful Fred could be. Sure enough, Horvath became all of those things as a result of Fred's performance.

What do you think of 3D TV and what can it give to the experience of watching films like this?

Jon Turteltaub: I'm curious to see if 3D TV is worth it. For crying out loud, I can't ever find the remote, how the hell am I going to find those damn glasses?

Can you tell us about filming in Manhattan? What were some of the difficulties you faced?

Jon Turteltaub: Shooting in New York is fantastic... always... because New York always makes you EARN your success no matter what you do. It's a rough place.... which makes it a great place.
And what makes it so hard is obvious... constantly changing weather, endless amounts of noise, nowhere to park 24 big rig trucks, and eleven million people who don't give a crap about your stupid movie.

Do you believe in magic?

Jon Turteltaub: Nope.

How many mops did go through to make this movie?

Jon Turteltaub: One. Maybe two. (You think we spent money on visual fx and CGI so that we could use real mops?)

Aside from the wonderful special effects, The Sorcerer's Apprentice has amazing production design, were you literally floored when you saw what was built on set for this film?

Jon Turteltaub: Did the production designer submit this question? If not, she should have. Naomi Shohan is such a brilliant and extraordinary woman. The sets she created (with her wonderful crew) are mind boggling and get lost in the vfx shuffle. I think the audience assumes everything is fake these days... but these massive sets were very real. And you are right... there were days I would walk onto the set and think, "Holy crap, would you look at this?"

What's more important to you: critical or commercial success?

Jon Turteltaub: This is one of those existential questions that probably plagues all of us in our own way. Not just movie makers... but every one of us. Do I take a job just for the money even if it won't make me happy? Do I marry this person because they are stable and good even though I don't feel passion? The movie question isn't really just about critics.... it's about making movies that have meaning. The honest answer is that, with movies, the pain of a flop lasts a lot longer than the pain of bad reviews. However, there's also an overall desire to make films that matter.... that are game-changers in some ways.

If you only had one power to save the world, what would it be?

Jon Turteltaub: Eliminate testosterone.

Your films have so much destruction and visual effects, but I'm curious... which of the following type of film would you like to take on in the future: a) superhero b) disaster c) alien invasion film?

Jon Turteltaub: Oddly, I've never thought of my films as having "so much destruction". I'm the guy who made Cool Runnings and Phenomenon!! I also made three action/adventure films where the heroes never touch a gun. Maybe I need MORE destruction. Yeah! That's what's holding me back.

What were some of your favorite family films as a kid?

Jon Turteltaub: As a kid, every film is a family film. It's not like I sat around with my pals in fourth grade watching The Godfather and Cabaret. When I was a kid, we liked EVERYTHING. I remember thinking that Disney's The World's Greatest Athlete and The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes were the best movies ever.

What does Disney bring to the plate that no other studio does (or does as well)?

Jon Turteltaub: You know... what Disney understand that most other studios don't isn't about kids. It's about parents. They know what parents will feel safe taking their kids to see and what parents will enjoy. Disney, because of its success, the brand recognition makes it vulnerable. Rarely will parents see a movie that offends them and say, "How dare the Sony corporation make a movie like that!"
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But if it's a Disney movie you can bet there will be letters, protests and law suits. So they have gotten very good at understanding parents.

What is your definition of a film's success?

Jon Turteltaub: For me, success is defined in a lot of ways. Certainly, financial success is important and underrated by many filmmakers. It matters to get the studio its money back and to generate income for them so that they will continue making movies and hiring us. A film is also a success if there's a general feeling out in the universe that it was good. No one critic matters... but we all know when the vibe out there is good or bad. Awards can also mean success. For me personally, I feel I've had a success when the film makes a lot of money and more people tell me they loved it than tell me they didn't.

Can you tell us who or what your inspirations are? Is there a particular movie or director that really influences you?

Jon Turteltaub: I'm a product of the Spielberg age of filmmaking... which must make Steven crazy because I don't make films that look or feel as awesome as his. But Steven embraced normal, average human beings and made them glorious.... and he embraced movies and made them glorious. That really inspired me. The filmmakers that I probably try most to emulate are Stanley Donen, Sydney Pollack, and Rob Reiner.

Were there any issues between yourself and the actors over how physical their roles were?

Jon Turteltaub: There are two entities that really want the actors to be safe... the actors and the insurance companies. So we have so many people around to make sure that everyone is safe at all times.... stunt men, fire men, security guards, special effects people, stand-ins, etc. But making movies is a dangerous business no matter what you do. You can't know for a 100% certainty that the wolves aren't going to eat Jay's face off. So when I shout action I've got my fingers crossed that I'm not about to film a sequence that's going to appear more on "WORLD'S MOST DISGUSTING DISASTERS" than in my own film.

Any chance of a 3 Ninjas reboot?

Jon Turteltaub: That would be fun... but I don't know. Sadly, I just now read that Dino De Laurentiis died. Dino was involved in that film.

Did growing up in Beverly Hills play a big role in pursuing a career in the entertainment industry?

Jon Turteltaub: Sure, no doubt. My father was a big television writer/producer, so I was around a lot of people in the entertainment industry. Other kids I went to school with had parents in the business as well.
The result of that isn't that everyone has some nepotistic inroad.... but that we grew up feeling that the entertainment industry was accessible. It wasn't some crazy dream that was somewhere out there in Hollywood... it was in our back yard and we were invited.

How did you break into Hollywood? Do you have any tips for anyone that wants to become a director?

Jon Turteltaub: I went to film school and that made no difference in terms of getting a break. What was my break was that I had a third cousin who knew a guy who was making really cheapo movies and it turned out that producer was someone I knew from Little League. I went in to meet him to get a job as a production assistant on the movie but during the interview I asked if I could direct it instead. He said yes. (Ridiculous.) As for advice... there really is no one best way to make it. Every single person breaks in a different way. The key is to make people believe you have something to offer them that they don't have without you. It can be a script. It can be your face. It can be your sense-of-humor. It can be anything so long as you let them believe you have something they need.

Which Sorcerer's Apprentice character is the most like you? Hopefully it's Horvath... :)

Jon Turteltaub: I actually like Alfred Molina the most. Character wise, I'm probably closest to the ten year old Dave Stutler whose dreams are shattered and doesn't get the girl. (But later grows up to land the hot blonde chick. YAY!)

Jon, anything from the set that you did keep for yourself as a memento of the film?

Jon Turteltaub: I have Monica Bellucci in my basement.

What is your favorite Spielberg film?

Jon Turteltaub: No question for me, it's Jaws. However, I think Close Encounters is his best.

Jon, any final thoughts on The Sorcerer's Apprentice?

Jon Turteltaub: You know, I'm really proud of the movie. It's always hell making any film because we torture ourselves emotionally while making them. But when you go through a tough journey with good and creative people, you can't help but feel proud of what you've accomplished. (I sound like a Boy Scout Troop leader). With this film, I've watched it with audiences so many times and I see how they respond to what we did. It's a great feeling. And it makes all the time away from family and time spent with other smelly, tired people all worthwhile. So, tell the world. Rent it. Buy it. Download it!! (Just don't pirate it.) Thanks!

The Sorcerer's Apprentice Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo cover art
The Sorcerer's Apprentice conjures its spells on DVD and Blu-ray November 30th.
Order it from Amazon.com: DVD Blu-ray + DVD Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy

Related Interviews:
New: Michael Arndt, screenwriter of Toy Story 3 and Little Miss Sunshine Joey King, star of Ramona and Beezus
Jon Turteltaub, March 2008

Related Reviews:
Directed by Jon Turteltaub: National Treasure National Treasure: Book of Secrets Cool Runnings
New: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Ultimate Edition) A Christmas Carol Elf (Ultimate Collector's Edition)
Summer 2010 Movies: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time The Karate Kid Toy Story 3 Marmaduke Grown Ups
Nicolas Cage: Knowing Next Ghost Rider Kick-Ass G-Force Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans Con Air
Jay Baruchel: She's Out of My League Tropic Thunder Knocked Up Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian
From the Writers of The Sorcerer's Apprentice: Bedtime Stories The Uninvited

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Posted November 11, 2010.

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