Steven Quale


It may shock those without an IMDB account to know that “Final Destination 5″ is, one of the finest examples of a 3D movie to date. But anyone with internet seach abilities can bring up director Steven Quale’s resume and see that the multi-skilled filmmaker worked, on and off for about fifteen years, with James Cameron – the man who resurrected and perfected 3D with his “Avatar”. Quale brings to “Final Destination 5″ the skills he learnt working on the 2009 blockbuster with Cameron, as well as a vast array of roles in completely different areas in film.

I caught up with Quale on the phone last week to discuss “Final Destination 5″.

Hey, Steven. How are you?

I’m good. So, what part of Australia are you from?

I’m in Melbourne.

Oh. Great city.

Yeah.

I’ve been there several times and it’s a beautiful city, so I can’t wait to get back there again.

It’s getting to be nice weather too at the moment. So, the rain and thunder is behind us finally. So, it’s a good time to visit if you’re thinking of doing a Final Destination 6 in Melbourne and having the West Gate Bridge collapsing..

[chuckle]

It’s a thought. It’s a thought. Congratulations on the movie. I wanted to say this is probably the better of the 3D movies I’ve seen in the last couple of years.

Well, thank you.

The 3D works. I think that’s what I’m trying to say. I’m sure you know exactly what I’m saying is that so many of these 3D movies behind… The ones that they’re doing in post, they’re weak and people have become savvy to that.

Yep, the industry hurt itself…

This really put you in there, doesn’t it?

Yeah. Well, the key there is just having under… The understanding of what good 3D is, how it works. And having done two movies, Aliens of the Deep and Avatar, both with James Cameron, I learned a great deal, especially in Aliens of the Deep, of what not to do and what hurts people’s eyes and what isn’t effective 3D and what to do. So I applied all those techniques and was even a little more aggressive at some of the kill sequences with the 3D in this film. And I think the results speak for themselves and in fact, every shot in the whole movie was made of the shot in 3D. And that’s the key. It’s getting the filmmakers to really understand it and use it as effectively as possible to give the audience a fun ride.

So, how did you decide where the 3D elements go? It used to be just…

The way I… Alright, the way I picked the 3D is I actually looked like any filmmaker. You look at some directors, they love telephoto lenses, and then some directors like really wide angle lenses. It doesn’t mean that one’s right or one’s wrong. It’s just a different aesthetic. So in this film, I looked at the story and I said “Well, what is it about the story and the characters that organically tells you what you want to do with the 3D” as opposed to just “I want to make a cool 3D shot for no reason in the middle of the dialogue so you have somebody’s hand come right at you.” That’s not effective 3D. But if suddenly somebody’s about to die and some horrific thing comes flying right at you, that could be effective. So it just boils down to making it organic with the story. In fact, I think the most effective use of the 3D in the film was the bridge sequence. When you have this suspension bridge and it starts collapsing and you’re 75 meters off the water and you have to climb on this narrow I-Beam to get to the other side for safety as things are vibrating and crashing down, that’s a brilliant use of 3D because it really gets the sense of vertigo that a 2D movie cannot get at all.

And I think that’s where it really excels in a sense that everybody is going to react to the in-your-face 3D moment, which we have enough of those. But that enveloping, vertigo-inducing, scary ride that you get when you’re up on a bridge like that, that’s the ultimate use of 3D and I think we really succeeded in making that very effective.

You did. You did. I needed a change of underwear. I mean, it added depth in the same way actually that Avatar did, in the 3D effects that Avatar did.

Right. My feeling is if you do a contrast of that, so you have some dialogues scenes where you tone it down, you still have that immersive quality, but you’re not going in-your-face with it. Then you wrap it up for the moment that you need that and get a nice balance. It’s… I’ve always believed in dynamic range and contrast, both in the sound and the visual aspects of the film. You have quiet, you have loud. You have really intense 3D and then more subtle 3D. And then if you do that, it’ll make both ends of it seem more effective and stronger.

Definitely. Now having worked with Jim Cameron over the years, did you feel a lot of pressure in having a movie to show him that would knock his socks off in 3D and so forth?

Well, the two things I told Jim before I did the film was “Well, look, we don’t have a lot of money. We don’t have Avatar money obviously, but this bridge sequence I think could be really cool and I just have to be very clever with all my resources and to use all my tricks to be as effective as possible.” And obviously I have no problems with the 3D. Having done two films, I felt very confident with that. When I showed the film to Jim, he said to me afterwards, when the movie was over, “I thought you didn’t have any money for that bridge sequence. That was amazing.” And too he said, ” Finally great to see a movie where somebody does 3D right.” So I couldn’t get much better compliments than those two.

No, that’s a great pat on the back. And it is true. It is true. That bridge sequence is fantastic. I think it might be the best of the Final Destination death sequences at the…

Right.

Yeah. I do love the one in the second film though, the car sequence. That’s a good one too.

Oh, yeah. David Ellis did a fantastic job for that one. That was… It’s sort of, when I saw that I said “That was something we need to strive for but do out of a more epic scale as opposed to just a bunch of stunts of cars rolling over which is really effective. Let’s bring it to an even larger scale of an entire bridge collapsing.”

Exactly. Why do you think horror and 3D works so well?

I think it’s just that the nature of the medium is perfect for being able to give you those scare moments and shocks and, at the same time, enveloping you in its world up because the traditional horror movie is all about the suspense and the tension leading up to the actual execution of the horror moment. And with 3D you can do that enveloping world that brings you into that even more so until you hit them with something and I think it’s just a perfect genre that allows those techniques to exploit that.

Sure. Were you a little bit worried that the novelty of 3D had started to wean a bit or the appeal of 3D because of these terrible post converted jobs?

Well, my feeling is Hollywood has done a disservice in rushing out to try to get the cash bandwagon of converting every possible movie under the sun to 3D and saying it’s 3D and then having it to be really crap. It’s one thing if you do it well and it’s another thing to do it poorly. And so, I think we’re finally seeing the realization where we get master filmmakers such as Ridley Scott doing Prometheus: The Alien Prequel and saying never going to shoot a non-3D movie again because he was so enamored with the process or people like Peter Jackson or the new Spiderman movie. I think the key is to have people who are filmmakers who understand visually how to use the 3D and to do it in a very effective manner. I mean, I can’t wait to see Ridley or Martin Scorsese’s Hugo. It’s having the right people with the right tool and the sensibility to use it properly. I think it’s going to be the key to 3D’s future.

Yeah, having… How long have you worked with Jim Cameron? And how did that relationship begin?

I was basically a production assistant at Fox when I was still going to USC Film School. I was 20 years old. This is in the late 80s. And the job ended and then this art department needed a study model built for this movie and so I went and built this model and as a kid, I had built models for fun. So when I finished this model, the director who saw this model was really impressed with it and said “How would you like to go to South Carolina and build models for me on this movie called The Abyss?” And I said, “Sure”. And he said, “Well, good, we already booked you a ticket so you leave tomorrow morning.” And that director of course was Jim Cameron and that started my relationship of the 20-year old who loves science fiction films, loves diving underwater, and suddenly I’m working on this amazing film called The Abyss, designing action sequences with models using a video camera to do freezes which now they do on computers.

And because we have this common interest, we just maintained our friendship and then he kept calling me back on his other projects to help out and do various things. So finally on Titanic, I was in charge of this huge second unit that did four and a half minutes of the action sequences of the water coming in the engine room and the boiler room with all the people shoveling all the coals and stuff so…

Wow.

I guess I had to be in the right place at the right time, but I worked really hard and there was a lot of common interests between myself and Jim and we just maintained our friendship because of that.

That’s great. Are you working on the new… They’re doing Titanic 3D, aren’t they?

Yeah. Well, Jim’s mainly dealing with the 3D vendors and stuff like that on that. I really haven’t… I saw a test that’s looks fantastic. Leave it to Jim to show people how you really convert a 3D movie by probably spending more money than anybody ever can imagine and spending years to make it perfected and so forth because done properly, it can be very effective. It’s just unfortunate most of the people don’t do that. And with today’s technology now, it’s going to be a point where nobody’s going to bother converting movies because the 3D technology will get so easy to use that it won’t be a big difficult burden that it has been in the recent past.

Will you guys collaborate again, do you think?

I’m sure. Who knows? I have no idea what my future will bring but every time Jim has some amazing projects and he calls me up, it’s hard to resist. Not many people have the opportunity to work on such films as Avatar and Titanic and True Lies and The Abyss and Terminator 2.

Wow.

So it’s pretty amazing films to be involved in. So I wouldn’t say, “Never say never,” but who knows what I will be dealing with and what my schedule will take… That’s in the future and that’s kind of unknown.

You could put your hand up for the most wanted sequel in history, True Lies 2.

[laughter] Well, I’m they are making a TV series…

Yeah. They are, aren’t they?

I hope so.

* SPOILERS *

Oh, that would be great. That would be great, anyway. When did you decide to tie in this Final Destination film with the first? Because that’s a great element.

Well, we’re trying to keep that hush-hush for the fans, so that they don’t know that’s happening going in. But that was in the original script and that’s one of the things that I thought was brilliant. If you make it all truthful like that and it was really for the fans. And it’s amazing when you see the audience and like half of the audience are diehard fans and they get it and there’s a murmur around the room as they see that one shot from the original film. And then the 180 and the picket all that and I just thought it’s a brilliant way to keep it full circle. And in fact, it’s the only Final Destination movie where the audience rated, in our test screenings, the audience rated the ending as one of the best aspects of the whole film.

Nice. Nice. But there’s a tip off that it is connected to the original, of course, by having Tony Todd come back.

Yes.

So that’s a great link, anyway.

But it was kind of in a more subtle way so people don’t really understand that. But if you look very carefully at the whole movie, there’s not a single car that isn’t pre-2000 and year 2000. All the dates and everything that are there are the proper dates. So it’s actually a period piece, but nobody knows that and we kept that a secret. In fact, the most challenging thing is the cell phones are flip phones that are ten years old. At first the audience doesn’t realize it, but why is everybody having ten year old phones? Again it was all very subtle to do it, so that when people watch it a second time, they can go through and pick out all these things. Even Olivia’s photograph that she smashes unintentionally in the office is her in the roller coaster on FD3.

Wow. Very smart.

So we did a lot of little things for the fans that if they really analyze it, they’ll see it all. I think the ending again, which we want to keep secret, was a great nod and a great way to tie it all together.

* END SPOILERS *

Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Is there a Final Destination 6 do you think in your future? Or…

Who knows. Never say never. I mean, it’ll be up to the fans. We’ll see how this one performs internationally and if it makes as much money as the fourth one, I’m sure Warner Brothers will want to make another one. And then the question for me will be just if we can get a script that can live up to this one because frankly I wouldn’t want to go backwards in the same way some franchises have.. because you get into the whole franchising thing.

Well, thank you so much for chatting to us and congratulations on the film and the fantastic 3D effects.

Okay. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I hope everybody in Melbourne gets a chance to have fun and see the film.

I’m sure they will. Thank you so much, Steven.