Click to viewDirector Paul W.S. Anderson, known for bringing the monstery violence in Resident Evil and AVP, is also at the helm of the controversial remake of Death Race 2000. We got a chance to talk to Anderson at a press conference, where he explained the best way to run over a camera with a speeding armored vehicle, the physics behind mounting two Vulcan cannons on the side of a car, and why he excised the original flick's bonus points for running over old people. Click through for the entire interview. Let's cut to the chase, the pedestrian point system, what happened to it? I loved [producer] Roger [Corman]'s movie. And one of the things that fascinated me about it, I mean really fascinated me about it, and I've had a lot of time to think about it, is: how did the Death Race become the national sport of America? It's not like the American president woke up one morning and went, "I know! We're going to make the national sport of America driving around in these killer cars that are outfitted with guns and knives, running people over. And we'll televise it." You know, he clearly latched onto an existing sport or an existing trend or some kind of underground thing and developed it. And that always fascinated me. I thought, you know, how did the Death Race come about? And that was really the intention of our movie, was to do the genesis of the Death Race. In a believable way, how could something like this evolve in the near future? You know, the whole point system, it's not like we don't run people over in this movie. Plenty of people get run over. Plenty of people get killed. It's just you don't score points for doing it. There were versions of the script that had the point system in, and versions that didn't have it. And ultimately I felt that for the story we were telling it was too close to the genesis of the Death Race to have the point system. The point system felt it belonged to a more developed form of the sport. Yeah, you did say that there was a line in there about how he's getting squeamish. Yeah, exactly. You know, I felt that if you were a fan of the original movie and you see this movie, you can see how the point system evolved. I didn't really feel that we had to have points to make it Death Race. Yeah, and I think it's part of, you know, re-imagining a property like this. You know, it's like Batman Begins. It wasn't Joel Schumacher's Batman. I think it's better that it wasn't Joel Schumacher's Batman, but it did keep a lot of the characters the same. It just told a different story and told it a different way. And that's how I approached this movie: as a re-imagining rather than a direct remake. It was a prequel rather than a direct remake. And that's why no points. But if we are lucky enough to make a sequel, I think that is one of the things that we would do in the sequel, the evolution of the points. Again, all leading up to what Roger Corman's movie represented. Was the fact that you decided to put the point system in the sequel due to internet fan outrage? [Laughs] No. I loved the original Death Race, a lot. It was a very influential movie for me. One of the things I'm fascinated with [is] how did running people over become the national sport of America and the point system that came of it. You shot this without special effects. Did you want to give it a more 70s feel? Yes. But you were obviously inspired by Mad Max. Were there any other films, 70s films, like Vanishing Point that inspired you? Oh, I grew up with Vanishing Point, Two Lane Blacktop, Walter Hill's The Driver, Sam Peckinpah's The Getaway, The Road Warrior, Bullett, The French Connection—- I mean those are some of my favorite movies. And you know, those movies gave you a visceral thrill because they were real. When you see Sam Peckinpah's The Getaway, and you see those cars crunching into one another, damn it looks good! Because bits are really flying off the cars, not CG shit flying off the cars. It's real, and the physics are real as well. And that's the kind of movie I wanted to make, but I wanted to make it with the best kind of technology now. So instead of spending our money on six months worth of guys crunching on computers, generating computer generated cars, we spent our money on a year's worth of preparation, building camera rigs, special camera rigs, that would get the camera closer to the action than was physically possible in the 1970s. You know, the 1970s, when they shot these movies, sometimes they got shots from inside the cars, sometimes they got shots from cameramen on the cars, but they were always car mounted. I wanted to get the camera in there and move the camera. I wanted to get the cars to drive into the cameras at high speeds, so we built one of my favorite rigs. We built a rig that had a camera and was completely ringed with basketballs. So it was this big giant ball. We stick it in the middle of the road, and the cars would drive at it. There is a shot in the very first race, when the original Frankenstein drives, where the car slides around the corner, and it looks like it hits the camera, and it does. And then the continuation of that is really funny because the camera just rolls away, bounces away, and it hits the wall. We developed rigs like that that would allow us to have real impacts. We killed a lot of cameras in the making of the movie. But no people. What were the things that proved problematic in some of those scenes, in terms of the cars? It was really doing everything practical. I mean, we spent a year designing the cars. I was insistent that we wanted real armor plating and real firing machine guns. And the further we got into it the more complicated it became. So we weren't just making a car movie, we were making a war movie. So as well as watching all these 70s car movies, we watched Saving Private Ryan, we watched Black Hawk Down. There's an element to this movie that is like a war film, or it is like a Second World War fighter pilot movie, because the guns are hard-mounted on the cars. So in a way you have to line up where the airplanes had to line up in the Second World War to really get a bead on someone and be able to fire at them. The closer we got to the shooting of the movie the more complicated it became to do it practical. People started saying, "You know, maybe we should start doing some visual effects. Maybe you shouldn't have the machine guns firing, and we'll put it all in as visual—we'll do CG shells flying out of it." I'm like, "No, that's The Matrix."
I don't want to do that. They did it really well in the first Matrix movie and really badly in the second and third Matrix movies. It's old fashioned now. I don't want to see that. I want to see—we're going to have a Vulcan cannon, mounted on the side of Tyrese's truck. Normally they mount one of those on a Black Hawk gunship. His car has two of them. It fires 6000 shells per minute. I want to see 6000 shells tumbling out the back of that thing. So we did everything practical. Just to reload the guns on Tyrese's car literally took an hour. You would do one take, and then you would have to get the armorer to come in and reload the machine guns, because there is a limit to how many shells you can carry on the car. So practical gunfire was very difficult. Getting cars to spin thirty feet in the air was [also] very difficult. The death of the Dreadnaught was something where everybody came to me at some point and said, "Paul, we should really do this in miniature. We understand that you want to do everything practical, but we really feel that this is like an impossible stunt. To drive a seventy-five foot armor-plated truck into a metal post at sixty miles per hour and dead-stop it...we don't think it can be done." And I'm like, "You know what, let's try it. Let's do it." And we tested it twice, and each time the truck did something completely different, because it's not an exact science when you do things practically. If you do it in the computer you got a guy that just punches in the numbers and you know exactly what's going to happen and if you don't like it you can change it, but it's never going to look real. If you do it for real, you never know quite what you are going to get. So the stunt that is in the movie, we ringed the Dreadnaught with fifteen cameras, and we had really good camera men. I said, "I think this thing is going to go like that, but I don't know. We've tested it twice, and it's done something completely different. So be on your toes." I think that also gives the movie a kind of, gives it a cinema vérité, gives it a war zone feeling. Most of the movie is all hand-held, because the camera had to have to freedom to move. They couldn't be locked off because the cars could go anywhere. Sometimes the shots are a little out of focus, obviously. Cars have been coming right at them, and they have to kind of get out of the way. But I think it really adds to the thrill of the movie. We watched a lot of war zone reportage as well, and that was kind of a feeling that I thought we would have to try to emulate, but the cameramen were so under stress because the bullets were flying at them and the cars were flying at them, that we kind of got that rugged hand-held feeling naturally. So is Death Race a cool a idea to make a movie out of, or maybe a warning to a reality obsessed culture? I think it's a cool movie for sure, but Roger's movie was a very satirical, a very openly satirical, movie about the American media and where he thought American society was going. Ours is a different kind of film. It's not as openly satirical as Roger's is. It's played more straight. It has more comedy in it, but it is played straight as an action movie. But I think whereas his satire is explicit, ours is implicit in the movie. It's a warning of where we certainly feel reality television could take us. Ten years ago wrestling used to be fake, but it was big. Now no one cares about wrestling, it's all about ultimate fighting. It's about real guys being in an octagon beating the hell out of one another. How long before somebody dies? I mean, it's gonna happen, and when it happens you can bet your bottom dollar they are going to sell a million DVDs of the fight. And when people realize the profits that can be made out of the possibility of death in these sporting events, it may not happen in North America, but you can bet your dollar it is going to happen somewhere in the world and it is going to be available on import or be available on the Internet, and it is going to be a big business. And that was what we felt was the first baby step towards what we portrayed in Death Race. This is such a guy movie. Was adding the super curvy females a way to salt this up a little bit? Well, there were women in the original movie - not as proactive as they are in this film - but for me as a filmmaker I have always felt that my movies have strong women in them, whether it is Alien Vs. Predator or Resident Evil. And if you look at Resident Evil that's a very male-centric game, but the movies have always had very strong female protagonists. Right from my very first movie I've just been very interested in that. I've always liked movies with very strong female protagonists, and this movie is no different for me. The drivers tend to be men, but, for example with Joan Allen, I thought, you know, we are making a prison movie here, and we're following in the footsteps of so many good movies with great prison governors. There's Shawshank, there's Escape from Alcatraz, there's Birdman of Alcatraz, there are so many. How do we differentiate our prison governor from them? How do we do something different? So we don't invite all of these kind of, like, unfair and probably unfavorable comparisons? And I thought the most interesting thing to do, which I'd never seen done, was to have a female warden. And it's not like it doesn't really exist. Jean Woodford was the prison governor at San Quentin for ten years, and now she runs all the correctional facilities in California. So she runs twelve different jails, including Corcoran, which is the toughest jail in America. So the fact is that female prison governors exist, it's just that they have never been portrayed. I thought it would be very interesting to have that, and also very interesting to have an actress like Joan Allen, who I always see in the movies, she always seems like the moral center to the film she's in. You know, she's always the good heart of these movies. So I thought how interesting to take someone who is usually the moral center and make them the exact opposite, make them like the evil part of our movie. It's awesome. She's had three Oscar nominations. Now that she's said "cocksucker," I really feel this is the performance, best supporting actress. I've got to tell you, that scene, it was amazing, because when we shot it, the very first take we did of it, she was great, the take was fantastic. The first take was unusable because all the camera people were filming, and then she says "Okay, cocksucker!" And they all went "Gah!" They were all shocked to see Joan Allen swear. The first take was all out of focus, because everyone was all "Oh my God!" They couldn't believe it. It was like hearing their mother swear. It was just, just wrong. That is why when the movie plays we always get such great reactions. People are so shocked by it.