Frank Marshall is one of the biggest producers in Hollywood. Name a movie you loved from about 1978 to today and odds are Frank had a hand in it. Back to the Future, Poltergeist, Indiana Jones, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Sixth Sense, Gremlins, The Goonies, The Warriors and, of course, the vastly underappreciated Arachnophobia to name a few.
Oh, and Jurassic Park. Can't forget that one.
As one of the cornerstones of Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment Marshall has made movie magic for decades and he's still going strong.
I got to sit down with Frank and his producing partner Patrick Crowley on the Hawaii set of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom last summer. To set the tone, this interview was conducted in a sweltering tent on a dock somewhere on the west coast of Oahu while the crew was prepping a shot of Chris Pratt on a big truck racing up the dock with fire surrounding everything.
Not a bad gig, right?
Anyway, this interview was conducted by me and Slashfilm's Peter Sciretta. We had just come from the practical effects tent where we got to interact with real, breathing, actually-there dinosaurs. There was a full sized Blue, Pratt's best friend Raptor from the last movie, and a fully articulated baby Stegosaurus head. The puppeteers were there working the practical effects so a baby Stego sniffed me and nudged my hand with its snout and Blue (drugged out with a tranq dart and lying on his side) groggily looked me over, mouth opening and chest expanding as it took deep breaths.
In short it was just about the coolest thing ever for this '80s kid who grew up worshipping at the altar of practical effects. Peter was on Cloud 9, too, so going into this interview we were gushing about seeing actual real life dinosaurs. That's where we start, we talk about using practical effects versus CGI, we talk about a ton of stuff: animatronic dinosaurs, the new characters, working with JA Bayona and why they chose him to direct this sequel, how Steven Spielberg helped them solve a location issue, the villains (both human and dino) and a bunch of other stuff.
Enjoy the chat and stay tuned. I'll be dropping new on-set interviews all week as well as a big, detailed set report from my time in Hawaii. Spoiler alert: I saw dead dinosaurs, “live” dinosaurs, brought Chris Pratt some Guardians of the Galaxy-themed Doritos and took a stroll down down the wrecked main street of Jurassic World.
Here's the interview!
Frank Marshall: Where's Pat? My partner in crime.
Eric Vespe: I don't know. I think he ditched you.
Frank Marshall: That's usual.
Eric Vespe: Yeah, so those animatronics were unbelievable.
Frank Marshall: They're pretty cool.
Peter Sciretta: Seeing that Raptor, Blue, I mean, I almost cried. Like really it's incredible.
Frank Marshall: Yeah, it's, I mean, the obvious thing is it's so much better for the actors when they have something to act with. Yeah. It's that delicate balance. Sometimes the CG is better. It flip-flopped. It used to be animatronics was always better. And now it's like this. But you like to have something you can touch.
Peter Sciretta: I think it's a thing that like… at least from what I've seen on set visits and the final product is like when there's something here and even if they do set extension, the something there helps the set extension.
Frank Marshall: Yeah, absolutely.
Eric Vespe: You're a magician, Frank, so you know it hides the trick.
Peter Sciretta: Yeah.
Frank Marshall: Absolutely. That’s why you want as many solid pieces that take your eye away from what's not real and not solid. So you're right. Misdirection.
Eric Vespe: Misdirection, absolutely. You don't know where the seam is. You might know that there's an illusion and you can't figure out how they did it.
Frank Marshall: Yeah.
Eric Vespe: Growing up, that's what I loved. I loved not knowing the trick and then finding out about it. You know, like finding out about the bladders in American Werewolf In London and how that's what made the skin puff out and stuff like that.
Frank Marshall: Yeah. Well Gremlins, I mean, we had all kinds of that stuff. It was really fun.
Eric Vespe: Poltergeist is another great example where there's just every kind of practical effect in the world used on that movie.
Frank Marshall: Yeah. On that movie, yeah. And we built that backyard with the mud and all that.
Eric Vespe: And threw in real skeletons!
(Patrick Crowley enters the tent)
Patrick Crowley: Hi, I'm Pat.
Frank Marshall: Here he is. Notice he's much more stylish than me. He's got the beard, he's got the pants, the hat.
Patrick Crowley: I've been sitting out here all day.
Peter Sciretta: So when you were developing this and Colin (Trevorrow) came in, what was the pitch for Jurassic World 2?
Frank Marshall: Well, I mean, we knew we had to get off the island. I think he's been thinking about this since Jurassic World, where we're gonna go in 2 and 3. So it was just a question of how far we were gonna go in 2. So he kind of had it all sketched out. And basically from what I remember brought a treatment in. I mean, I don't think we sat down and talked to him about it.
Patrick Crowley: Boy, it was interesting 'cause without revealing too much of it, he wanted to go much further in the second one. And we all sort of looked at it and said, I don't think everybody's ready for that. Pull it back a little. It was just in terms of the length of the time of the storytelling. He had started here and went all the way to there.
Frank Marshall: Well we really felt we needed to spend time to get to know Chris and Bryce again. Where they'd been in three years. Because as you'll see, I mean, there's some changes... well for her mostly, there's a big change in her. She's realized that she made a mistake and that it was her responsibility, not her fault, but she was part of what happened. So she's now trying to make up for it, trying to do better and Chris is pretty much still a loner on his own. Not wanting to deal with anything. So we had to set that up.
Eric Vespe: It must be interesting from your perspective since you not only have to hear the director's vision, but then also kind of think about it not only in the wider terms of the franchise, but also how to actually execute it in real life. So was there a particular element that you can talk about that got you really excited about his thing?
Frank Marshall: Well, that challenge is at least for me what I get all excited about is how we're gonna do this. Where are we gonna do it? How are we gonna do it? And how we're gonna pull it off. And there's some locations in this one that are... we're not just on stage. Although on the last one we were here, but we went to New Orleans, so how do we do it and do the magic trick of having people believe we're where we are, but do it for the best price? And so it's always exciting to sit down and say, well should we go here, should we go to Atlanta. It just so happened that I knew how to get some stages at Pinewood Studios.
(Marshall's longtime partner in crime and wife, Kathleen Kennedy is spearheading all the Star Wars stuff for Lucasfilm, which shoots at Pinewood)
Eric Vespe: Yeah. You might have been able to negotiate that a little bit.
Patrick Crowley: Or not!
Frank Marshall: (laughs) Yeah, or not.
Eric Vespe: Yeah, that might have backfired on you too.
Frank Marshall: Yeah, it could have, yeah. So it all worked out very well.
Patrick Crowley: It was very interesting 'cause then Steven got into the mix. And with Steven would sort of go, 'cause we're on Isla Nublar, which is off the coast of Costa Rica. And it was like okay, well you need to get from there to somewhere in a relatively short period of time. So we had kind of a conceit about the location where we were gonna end up. And Steven goes “no, it's not possible. You can't do that.”
Frank Marshall: It's not possible to do it in that amount of time.
Patrick Crowley: In the amount of story time that we needed to have.
Frank Marshall: Yeah.
Patrick Crowley: They get on a boat in order to get off and that's what we're doing here. And so they need to get on a boat and then they gotta get somewhere. Rather than making it a movie about traveling on a boat, which is not very exciting, you needed to get to the new place.
Eric Vespe: And it couldn't have been like “Two months later...”
Patrick Crowley: Yeah. And Steven was going, well… if you wanna get to, we end up in Northern California, I think if you wanna get to Northern California that's gonna take too long. So then we were putting out scouts into Peru and Ecuador and just all kinds of places that we thought (could work.)
Frank Marshall: I wanted to go to Cabo San Lucas. (laughs)
Patrick Crowley: It just didn't work for the story. So then you go “Okay, how can we make those stages at Pinewood work?” And we essentially came up with a really good idea.
Frank Marshall: Yeah. And I think that on this one we do have a lot more interior scenes than we've had on any of the other movies. So it made sense to be on a soundstage. A big soundstage, which Pinewood was perfect for.
Eric Vespe: But, I mean, that's kind of in the DNA already of the franchise, 'cause some of the best moments from the original movie are like the Raptors in the kitchen.
Frank Marshall: Yeah, in the kitchen, yes.
Eric Vespe: Stuff like that and my understanding is that this one's a lot more suspenseful.
Frank Marshall: Well you've seen the photo in what I call the museum.
Eric Vespe: Yeah.
Frank Marshall: Well that's a huge set. So yeah, so you just take the elements and you figure out how best to use them.
Peter Sciretta: Who is that in the photo? We don't know much about that little girl.
Frank Marshall: I don't know. It's some little girl.
Patrick Crowley: She just wandered in. And see the other thing we had to do is we had to come up with sets big enough because the evil dinosaurs is bigger than the Raptors in the kitchen. I mean, the Raptors are like human size and they can sort of scurry around, whereas this one couldn't. So then the scale of everything had to be bigger to be able to have those kinds of scenes. To have them work. So somehow there were things that were driving the design of the movie that we hadn't anticipated.
Eric Vespe: So do you guys have a like a main threat animal in this one? 'Cause the last few have had like the Spinosaur and Indominus and stuff like that.
Frank Marshall: Yeah. We have a bad dinosaur that, of course, is released before it's ready.
Eric Vespe: Yeah.
Peter Sciretta: Of course.
Patrick Crowley: Not quite ready for primetime.
Eric Vespe: Well, if it was then I'm sure it would be sweet and gentle.
Frank Marshall: Yes. No, and to be fair, you guys, the little girl's name in the movie is Maisie.
Peter Sciretta: Maisie?
Frank Marshall: Maisie, yeah.
Patrick Crowley: M-A-I-S-I-E.
Frank Marshall: And her Grandfather... she shares a love of dinosaurs that her Grandfather has, so that was his museum. And they're connected to Lockwood.
Peter Sciretta: And that's John Hammond's ex-partner?
Frank Marshall: Yes. Yes. We like to play with the adults' and kids' love of dinosaurs as it exists in the world today.
Patrick Crowley: And another thing that was just driven by the story is, as Frank was saying, we're in rooms, we're in buildings with dinosaurs. So we're closer to dinosaurs than for a longer period of time than we've ever been.
Frank Marshall: And they're in cages, but still they're really close.
Patrick Crowley: So one of the things that happens is if you go and you touch a dinosaur, okay, you don't try to touch a digital dinosaurs 'cause it doesn't work. So you then end up with more animatronics than there's been in 25 years.
Frank Marshall: I think since Jurassic Park. We've got more animatronics than any of the other movies. Except for Jurassic Park.
Patrick Crowley: So and it's an amazing thing to work with Neal Scanlan, who has done all of the stuff for Star Wars.
Peter Sciretta: How'd you get him?
Frank Marshall: I, you know, just made a phone call. No, breakfast. Breakfast. We'll work this out.
Patrick Crowley: A late breakfast.
Frank Marshall: Maybe that was dinner. Maybe a bottle of wine for that one. (laughs)
Patrick Crowley: But I hadn't worked with him before. You hadn't worked with him before. But just the stuff that he brought to it. And we saw stuff like this (snaps fingers). It would be “So, what do you think it's gonna look like?” “Well, come down to the shop.” And he would already have done renderings and sculpting and gone through the whole process. So, Blue as a character, we are so much closer to Blue.
Frank Marshall: Yeah. And I have to say the process of the animatronics is so advanced now from what it used to be. What they're able to do now is fantastic. And it's so much faster to see what you're gonna have. So that made it really cool.
Eric Vespe: So, your life size Rex isn't gonna have the shivers like the old one did?
Frank Marshall: No.
Patrick Crowley: No. 'Cause they were working with hydraulics. And everything now is mostly servos and stuff like that. And there's guys at joysticks, but there are still puppeteers making it breathe and making that head turn and doing all the rest of that stuff. These guys they're all dressed in black and you know they spend a lot of time in yoga studios, 'cause they're like that (strikes an awkward pose) for hours at a time. It's amazing. They're really talented.
Peter Sciretta: And this film introduces a whole new cast of people.
Frank Marshall: Yeah.
Peter Sciretta: What can you tell us about them? Because we haven't heard much.
Frank Marshall: You know, it's a great variety. We have a great new cast.
Patrick Crowley: Claire basically runs a “How do we protect dinosaurs society.”
Frank Marshall: It's a Dinosaur Protection Group.
Patrick Crowley: The Dinosaur Protection Group, the DPG. Okay? And she has surrounded herself with young, environmentally conscious, hard working, unpaid people.
Frank Marshall: Also yeah, what do I wanna say? Not Internet savvy, but yeah, I.T. kind of savvy people who know how to raise awareness within the right age groups and--
Eric Vespe: Like a grassroots political movement.
Frank Marshall: Yeah, what you would put together for a campaign.
Patrick Crowley: So there's Justice Smith, okay, and he plays a character named Franklin. And he is the essentially the I.T. guy for the group.
Eric Vespe: And we hear reluctant guy, he doesn't seem to wanna come on this adventure.
Frank Marshall: He's a reluctant adventurer. He loves being there at his computer and his keyboard, but he doesn’t wanna go out and be Indiana Jones. He's not interested in that.
Patrick Crowley: So, he doesn't like to fly, he doesn’t like bugs, he really doesn’t like being outside.
Eric Vespe: So, he's the perfect person to go on this adventure.
Frank Marshall: Absolutely.
Patrick Crowley: And then there's Daniella Pineda, okay, who plays Zia. And Zia is a paleo veterinarian. Okay. She's studied it, went to university, but has never actually seen a dinosaurs yet. Since they're all on Isla Nublar, this will be her first exposure to real flesh and blood dinosaurs.
Frank Marshall: She's pretty fiery in her defense of dinosaurs. “Dinosaurs are like the rest of us and they need to be preserved and we have to keep him from being, becoming extinct.” Save the gorillas, you know. Or the dolphins or whatever we're saving this month.
Peter Sciretta: And Colin told me that those two are the secret sauce of this movie. That's the words he used.
Frank Marshall: Yeah. They're, they keep things moving. They're the characters you haven't seen and are unexpected. They're… court jesters, whatever you wanna call it.
Eric Vespe: They can add a little brevity without being too silly.
Frank Marshall: Yeah, exactly. They're believable but they make it fun and exciting and real.
Patrick Crowley: 'Cause then you've got Chris and Bryce and they're basically still reliving It Happened One Night, which was totally Steven's idea. We sat down when we did the first one and Steven said, have you guys all seen It Happened One Night? He said, let's bring some of that.
Eric Vespe: We want a little of that Clark Gable swagger.
Patrick Crowley: A little of that, just that jousting.
Eric Vespe: Can we talk a little bit about JA and how you guys decided he was the right one for the job?
Frank Marshall: I'll tell you the story.
Eric Vespe: Yeah. Please do.
Patrick Crowley: It's what we're here for! (laughs)
Frank Marshall: As a matter of fact… I called him for the first one.
Eric Vespe: Oh yeah?
Frank Marshall: Yeah. I love The Impossible and I love The Orphanage and I thought “Oh God, he can handle action and characters... who is this guy?” And so I called him and we met and it turns out he was this huge Jurassic Park fan. Sort of like Colin. This is before Colin.
But we were on the fast track. And he said, “I need a lot of time. I know what I need. I need my prep time. I have a certain process I go through and all that. And I just don't think I can do it.” 'Cause we had that other script. And he said, “I've got this other movie that I'm thinking of doing, too. So thanks, but no thanks.” And so I filed that in the back of my brain. And then found Colin.
So when we were starting to talk about the next one, I called JA and Belen and we met in England. At the time they were on World War Z 2, I guess it was. Right?
Patrick Crowley: Yeah.
Frank Marshall: Yeah, and so he wasn't really available. But we had a really great dinner. And then you know what happened, he decided not to do that. They called me and we were still looking for a director. The good news is Colin and Derek were writing the script as opposed to the last one, where we didn't have a script we liked. So the timing worked out perfectly for them to come on and for him to have the time to do his process.
And because it's the middle movie it needs to be a little more suspenseful and scary and he just seemed to be perfect. It seemed to be perfect timing for having him come in.
Patrick Crowley: And also Colin is very onboard with it, right? So Colin was the architect of the second one and the third one and he and JA hit it off, so JA then felt much more comfortable that one, he liked the original Jurassic World and he knew the direction Colin wanted to go in, so it wasn't as if it was just some script that he had to try to adapt. They kind of they shared together. So that was a big benefit there.
Frank Marshall: Yeah, I think there's a lot to be said for understanding the mythology and understanding the journey that these characters are going on and being a fan of the franchise. And that's what Steven said about Colin, he's the perfect combination of a terrific filmmaker and a fan. And JA is kind of the same.
Patrick Crowley: And also for JA and for us as producers, it was how do you take somebody who's never had the resources to do a movie like this and introduce them to him in a way so that he can take advantage of extensive storyboarding and pre-vis and you can go on location scouts, you can come to Hawaii twice before you shoot. All those kinds of things.
And then working with our visual effects supervisor, visual effects producer at ILM to be able to get what you wanted. And it's like you start out with baby steps and you start to climb the ladder and then by the time you're ready to shoot, he's still a little raw around the edges just 'cause he's never commanded that many people, but then watch him work into it and make allies and build relationships and he's got his own DP, Oscar Faura, who's done all his movies. And he's got his editor. So particularly for a guy where English is not his first language, that's like a big comfort level. A big comfort level to be able to have that.
Frank Marshall: Yeah, and that's part of our job is to surround him with the right people to help him get his vision up on the screen. Just knowing as a director that there are a couple people you gotta have that are like your security blanket, your DP, your editor... they're attached at the hip. If you don't have those people with you, you're gonna be lost. And so we understand that. And we made that part of what we wanted to do to support him.
Eric Vespe: It also allows him to have that brand that you liked in the first place. The look, the pacing and tone of his work that made you want him for the job. That shorthand he already has with those collaborators that allows him to bring that to this and not trying to shoehorn him in to another specific thing.
Frank Marshall: Yeah. And without referring to the current events, he knows that he's coming in to make a certain kind of movie. He's not here to be the auteur of “Oh I'm just gonna go off and create some crazy movie because that's what I wanna do.” That has really been great. It's really been exciting and fun and Colin's been involved and Steven looks at the dailies and it's so fun for us, because what we hoped would happen has happened.
Peter Sciretta: And can you talk a bit about how Jeff Goldblum figures into all this?
Frank Marshall: Yeah. From the start Colin wanted him to be the “Uh oh, danger, I told you from the start” kind of character. As he does so well.
Patrick Crowley: It's not difficult.
Frank Marshall: So when the volcano erupts and suddenly we're faced with are the dinosaurs gonna become extinct again, do we save them or do we not? That's the big question that he gets to pose again. And then we go from there. He's very philosophical in the movie. He doesn't come on the trip. But he's sort of an observer of what's been happening. And he speaks about that.
Patrick Crowley: He bookends the movie.
Frank Marshall: Yeah, he essentially bookends the movie with “I warned you and now I told you so. And now we're gonna be in a different place.”
Peter Sciretta: Where is he at in his life now? 'Cause we haven't seen him in 20 years.
Patrick Crowley: He was in Thor, wasn't he?
Peter Sciretta: Oh, I just meant his character. We haven't seen him since The Lost World.
Patrick Crowley: Oh, his character is... what he believed in before, he still believes in fervently now.
Frank Marshall: Still very much so. He's a scientist/philosopher.
Eric Vespe: Rock star.
Frank Marshall: Yeah, Rock star. Well, he's very senatorial in this one. He goes to those kind of hearings now and speaks about science and the world and how science can affect the world and how we have to be careful what we wish for. Or just to be able to do something doesn't mean it's right.
Peter Sciretta: What can you guys tell us, I know you're probably gonna be very vague, about the human bad guys in this?
Frank Marshall: They're very complicated.
Peter Sciretta: We like complicated villains.
Frank Marshall: These movies are about... there's greed and that enters into it always, but there's the question: do you wanna have dinosaurs or do you not believe in us creating them? It's the whole cloning debate. There are two people on either side and yeah, we should have them and we can use them in real life for things and people should be able to go to the zoo and see a Tyrannosaurus Rex. There are other uses for them probably. So…
Patrick Crowley: It's like in the last one, Simon Masrani moved things forward in terms of like genetic manipulation because he actually seemed to be relatively pure of heart. He wanted to provide entertainment for people. And we've evolved to and he was then a semi innocent villain. Whereas now you have guys who are sort of looking at what are the financial potentials? And then you have guys--
Frank Marshall: How can we profit from this?
Patrick Crowley: How can we profit from it? And then you have guys who are just real tough eggs.
Eric Vespe: The Ted Levine character, right?
Patrick Crowley: How'd you come up with Ted? He's so great in the movie. And Ted's just one of these guys that you go, if it came down to it I wanna make sure he's on my side.
Eric Vespe: Yes!
Patrick Crowley: And then you get Toby Jones. And Toby Jones can be anyone. He's the biggest chameleon of all. And Rafe Spall is just a great guy.
Frank Marshall: Yeah, Rafe's great. And Lockwood is not a villain I wouldn't say.
Patrick Crowley: No. He's no more of a villain than John Hammond was a villain.
Frank Marshall: Yeah. So it's complex I hope.
Eric Vespe: Nice.
Frank Marshall: All right? You good?
Eric Vespe: I think that's all I need. Thanks very much.
Peter Sciretta: Yeah, we won't take any more of your time.
Frank Marshall: We'll meet you again in a tent somewhere.
Peter Sciretta: All right.
Frank Marshall: Eric, Peter, great to see you guys.
Eric Vespe: Thanks, Frank.
Peter Sciretta: Thank you.
Thanks for reading this first interview! I'll have more details from the set visit hitting tomorrow. On the docket are lengthy interviews with Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, director JA Bayona and newcomers Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda as well as a more detailed piece on my adventures wandering the tropical set. Stay tuned!