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Cherry Pop

David Ellis ('Final Destination 2') David Ellis ('Final Destination 2')
“Let The Games Begin!“

Stuntman/2nd Unit Director/Director David Ellis began as a child actor in the Disney/Kurt Russell film ’The Strongest Man in The World’ in 1975 before making the switch to the stunt world following a successful career as a junior pro surfer! Born, bred and continuing to reside in Malibu, California, many, many stunts later David made the jump to Stunt Coordinator in 1978 with his first movie being the infamous ’Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ starring Donald Sutherland. Coordinating TV and films all over the world then brought him up to the position of 2nd Unit Director on ’Gorky Park’ in 1983. ‘Action’ movies proceeded to explode along with David's career and after befriending Harrison Ford, two of David's most notable 2nd Unit stints were Ford vehicles ’Patriot Games’ (1992) and ’Clear and Present Danger’ (1994).

Working nearly back to back movie projects, it was Disney offering him 1st Unit Director on the feature, ’Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco’ in 1996 that his career suddenly took yet another step in the right direction. His directorial debut grossed over $100 Million and was followed by a whole host of 2nd Unit Directorial efforts such as ’Desperate Measures’ (1997), ’Sphere’ (1998), ’The Negotiator’ (1998), ’Deep Blue Sea’ (1999), ’Perfect Storm,’ (2000), the CGI-laden ”Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’ (2001) and the forthcoming ’Matrix: Reloaded’

And, amazingly, David has still found time to helm his own sophomore directing effort, ’Final Destination 2’ starring original cast member Ali Larter and A.J Cook (’Out Cold,’ ‘The Virgin Suicides’). Alex and his girlfriend Clear (Larter) may have escaped death in a fiery airplane crash in the original ’Final Destination’ but in ’Final Destination 2,’ the courageous teens realize that the Grim Reaper will not be so easily fooled again. No matter how much you protect yourself, no matter how clever you think you are, you can't cheat death - or can you?

Chatting with the director himself, as it was a cold, Winters lunchtime here in Detroit I wondered where he was and what the weather was like ? ”I’m in Malibu, California. The sun’s coming up and it’s probably about 70 degrees. It’s beautiful and surf’s good.” Bastard !! But, biting my tongue, I pushed heartily onwards and wondered what his memories were of his first starring role alongside Walt Disney’s protegee, Kurt Russell in ‘The Strongest Man in The World’ ? ”Well, I was an actor/stuntman on that movie, but what I really wanted to do was be a stuntman. But I came onto the movie just doing some stunts and just kept me on as one of Kurt Russell’s buddies in the background for the entire movie. But, it was my big break and it was a blast. One day I was a ski bum up in Mammoth, California and the next day I’m working in Hollywood.”

Actually how does a person go from stuntman to Director of movies ? ”Well, I knew I wanted to direct when I got into the business, when I started looking around and seeing what everyone was doing.. I had a great career as a stuntman, but while I was doing that I was paying attention to how the directors were setting up shots, how they were talking to their actors to get them motivated, and then I started directing the 2nd Unit which is action sequences. Which was the natural kind of progression for a stuntman because you understand how to set up and choreograph the action and then the next thing is how to capture it on film. And then I just started doing really quality 2nd Units with really great directors and every time I watched them closely and then eventually I got the opportunity to direct.”

And you finally got your big break directing Disney's 'Homeward Bound II: Lost In San Francisco'! ”Yeah, that was a kids talking-dog movie, but it was a great opportunity but it didn’t really do a lot for my directing career, because, you know, I directed dogs ! So, I kinda went back to 2nd Unit work and kept working with great directors and after doing ‘The Perfect Storm, ‘Harry Potter’ and the ‘Matrix: Reloaded’ all in a row I was starting to get more of a buzz about my directing abilities. Then I had an interview at New Line and they showed me ‘Final Destination 2’ and they gave it to me and, here you go!”

It had been 6 long years since your last stint in the ‘big chair’, so did you come across any unexpected difficulties ? ”No, not at all, it was a blast. You have a lot on your shoulders and a lot of responsibility. As a 2nd Unit director you just go do all the really cool action stunts and stuff and now you’re responsible form the color of their hair, to the make-up, to the wardrobe, to production design, And yes, it’s a big responsibility, but it’s something that I really enjoyed.”

What gave you the confidence that people would want to see all this happen over again from ‘FD1’ ? ”A sequel’s always hard and it’s really tough especially when you have one that was kinda of a sleeper hit like ‘Final Destination’ was, but I felt that the writers presented me with a script that improved on the original one. It took the concept that worked in the original and really all the people want to see are all the really cool deaths, and I think they came up with some clever ways to kill people. So, I felt that we had a really good shot at either matching or improving on what the first one did and so far we did that. In fact, we opened up to 60% better than the original which is the first time in 10 years that a horror film has done that; beaten an original. So, I think we did our job.”

So, how much alcohol or Marijuana was being consumed at the meeting tables when these deaths were being dreamt up ?! ”You know, he says barely even being able to stop from laughing, I’m not sure what these writers were on, but they’re a little bit sick ! So, I just want to make that very clear that it was them that was sick and I just executed what they wrote.”

Which of the death scenes are you still amazed that you got away with conceiving ? ”I think the one where we cut the guy in three pieces, but they’re all sick, he laughs again, and they’re all over-the-top. It’s just the one where I went, ‘God, I can’t even believe that we did that ! The little boy when he’s crushed by the pane of glass is not right either !”

What was so alarming about it to you ? ”I guess when after we did it, because we did it with prosthetics, and the visual effects had added all the insides of the body that were kinda exposed, it became so real ! It still grosses me out when I see it !”

What was your favorite death scene in ’FD2’ ? ”My favorite scene I think is the opening car crash sequence. I like that and also I think the BAR-B-Q is kinda cute at the end! We tried to keep humor in it ‘cause otherwise it’s just too hard to take. You just can’t take this kind of movie too seriously. You should just go along for the ride and enjoy it. We kinda shock you and humor you and at the end we just kinda felt that we should let the audience off with a little bit of a laugh.”

Did you ever consider the ‘Hitchcockian’ approach of horror where you cut away and leave the rest to the audiences imagination ? ” No, not at all. I guess a lot of our audiences responded to the fact that we didn’t cut away with the money shot and that we actually went for it and had kinda the balls to make an ‘R’ movie instead of the ‘PG-13’ movie where we could have easily cut away from that stuff.”

Will there be an ’FD3’ ?! ”You know what, they’re talking about it and I’m involved with it, but I’ll do it if we get a really good script. I’m not gonna do it just to try and make some money. The people are responding to the concept, because it’s not just a slasher movie, so they like the concept. So, if they embrace it that’s great, but if we get a good script and we feel we can improve on ‘FD2’ and take people for a ride again, then it’ll be great.”

Was anybody really injured on the set of ‘FD2’ ? ”No, not at all. No, no humans were killed during the making of this movie. Or animals!”

Does death mean more to you now ? ”You know, I think I pay a little more attention to stuff. It’s really funny because after seeing the first one I definitely started thinking of things around me and making sure everything was kinda safe. But yeah, you can’t cheat death and eventually it’s gonna catch up with you. But, hopefully you can prevent it from coming to get you too soon!”

’FD2’ although not heavily reliant on CGI, does have some incredible sequences. Why choose to lighten that particular load ? ”I just wanted to try and keep things real and I think that CGI is overused and it kinda takes you outta the movie when things aren’t really real. Unless you’re into the movie like the ‘Matrix’ where you’re completely in another world. So, we just tried to keep it real and incorporate things that would happen in real life and try and make the action real and believable.”

Tell me more about your behind-the-scenes role on ‘Matrix Reloaded’ ”Yeah, on ‘Matrix: Reloaded’ I was the 2nd Unit director. I came in to help direct a big action sequence that coincidentally takes place on the freeway. They have a huge 18 minute freeway chase sequence in the ‘Matrix: Reloaded’ that’s just gonna blow people away. It’s really cool. They’re both done and I think the first one comes out in June or July and the second one somewhere around October.”

How difficult is it for you as 2nd Unit director to direct a scene like this one in the ‘Matrix: Reloaded’ that incorporates so much after-the-fact CGI ?! ”Well, it’s hard because sometimes you’d be shooting things and half the scene isn’t there. In the freeway chase sequence we had a guy that is leaping from car to car and every time he would hit a car that impact would flip a car over. So, we had all these things attached to the hoods that would crush the hood in like he’s leaping on it and we would flip the car with a cannon. Then we would know later that they would put the guy in later as a composite with the CGI work, but you have to just try and imagine what’s meant to be going on around you. We have storyboards and we also do a video of the entire sequence so we kinda know where the guy’s going and you just have to try and imagine the two together and make sure that the timing’s right.”

Finally, what are you currently working on ? ”I’m getting ready to do a new film for New Line called ‘Cellular’ and it’s a thriller and we’re just casting it right now. It’s a thriller about a lady that’s been kidnapped and thrown into this room that’s been destroyed. There’s these guys who are trying to get something from her and she has no clue what they want. So, she ends up putting the phone back together and it dials a random cell-phone of a ‘Ferris Bueller-kinda college kid.’ It’s all about her trying to get this kid to help save her life. Everything takes place with him on the phone in his car and her locked up in this little tiny room. Right now we hope to start shooting either in Boston or San Francisco probably in a couple of months and it’ll be out next year.”

Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk

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