Exclusive Interview: Director Jon M. Chu On G.I. JOE: RETALIATION, STEP UP and LXD
When G.I. Joe: Retaliation hit theaters, I got a chance to speak with the director Jon M. Chu. While G.I. Joe: Retaliation has its flaws, it had some pretty amazing moments like the action in the mountains with ninjas and the quieter character exchanges between Channing Tatum and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. We spoke a bit about his learning experience on his first action movie, but what I was most excited to discuss was the future for the Step Up franchise and LXD series. Keep reading to see what he had to say.
Full interview with Jon M. Chu:
Were you a fan of G.I. JOE growing up? How did you end up landing the gig in the end?
I heard they were making G.I. Joe 2 from the president of the studio – he just sort of mentioned it -and I remember literally hearing about G.I. Joe and thinking: I know what that movie should be. I’ve dreamt about that movie since I was 8 or 9 years old and I pursued it. I went after it and it was the greatest con job of my life to convince them to let me make this movie. Because of that, they surrounded me with the best crew and cast I could have asked for, so I was very lucky in that way.
There’s so much in the movie with all the villains and the new characters – was there anything you had to cut that you wish could have made it in?
Yeah there was a lot more ninja story that we put in there! Unfortunately, it was confusing for people because we had to serve a bunch of different audiences – people who knew everything about G.I. Joe, people who knew nothing about G.I. Joe, people who just saw the last movie about G.I. Joe – and so information was really hard to communicate what ninjas were good what ninjas were bad what their back story is so we had to simplify their story a lot and we had a much bigger story for the different characters and that was hard to take out of the movie.
The Ninja Mountain Scene was my favorite in the film. Was it hard to convince the studio or Hasbro to have nearly 10 minutes of no dialogue in the middle of an action movie?
We definitely had to fight for it. Rhett and Paul wrote it into the script but it was about a 2.5 or 3 page sequence and it became a 9 minute sequence, It was always a fight, “make it shorter make it shorter it’s not going to work” but the bigger we made it the longer it could play. So I think we tricked them into giving as much money as they could to get it there as fast as we could so they could see it. On paper it makes no sense, but when you see it you get it. I always said that if we did the action right, if we understood the story, we would be fine, because 1. Ninjas are awesome and 2. If you use the experience in the drama of it of being that high speed and vertical it would last that long. But we honestly didn’t know for sure until we showed an audience the first time, because there were a lot of pieces to that sequence.
Before this most of your background was in dance and music films with the Step Up series and Never Say Never. Would you say that your background in dance films helped you with an action movie?
I think the technicality of it and the logistics of working with different departments to create a moment of movement that creates story, I think that understanding that how actors physical presence can change your camera work should accent it or go against it so I think those helped I think when you add explosions and danger… it can get in your head and it can really distract you. The most important thing in the movie is the magic between the actor and the camera. I could focus in on that, but doing action definitely throws you for a loop a little bit because there are so many other things you need to worry about.
Will there be more Step Up movies?
I think so! My friend Scott Speer directed the last one and it was great. It was great to see him go through the process of all that and I think he did an amazing job of taking it to the next level. I believe they are working on another idea now. The global audience wants more, there’s a lot of dances to showcase and a lot more ways to experiment with dance and it should be an amazing job. I did learn the dancer dictates often what the camera should be doing so often as a director you just get out of the way and let them do their thing. When you have someone like Bruce and Dwayne most of the time you are just getting out of the way so the audience can be with these people, not trying to force your way in there as a filmmaker. I learned that a lot of it is patience and restraint. Not that G.I. Joe is very patient or restrained.
How was it working with Bruce and Dwayne?
It was pretty awesome! They are amazing teachers actually of action genre. This was my first action movie so to have them there it was like a master class in action filmmaking. They were super helpful, very encouraging and they just did their thing. Again, I tried to keep up with them. They had never been in a movie together but I was in awe on set and couldn’t wait to share it with the audience.
With Amazon and Netflix getting in to original content, it seems like there are more platforms than ever before. LXD did something like that with Hulu – would you be interested in working on those types of platforms again?
I love that model. I think there’s a lot of room to experiment there. LXD cannot be made in anything other than that the crazy experiment. It could never be sold as a TV show, could never be sold as a movie, it’s something that cannot exist without that model and I know its evolving which is great. And more and more filmmakers are getting in there and experimenting with it, which I think is awesome and I’d love to get in there. To me story telling is story telling no matter what the medium. Some mediums are better and necessary for some stories and so I experienced one that was absolutely necessary for that.
What are you working on next?
We’re in early stage design right now. Stage design is the most fun part of Master and Universe, but I’m not really putting a date on that. Deciding character design, building the culture from the ground up – when you build worlds what I’ve learned is that the more work you put in pre-production, the more you paint the world, the better and more refined that world can be. We are starting with that early. The script is great and we’re doing a rewrite of it now to get it in better shape, but I’m really excited for it. It’s a really cool property that will be a hot movie.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation is in theaters now.