Fifteen minutes in a room with a pair of filmmakers can go a number of different ways. When that pair of filmmakers is directing duo Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, responsible for the “Crank” franchise, there’s always a chance the conversation will turn… in an unexpected direction.
What isn’t unexpected is that the pair’s new “Ghost Rider” movie embodies the type of filmmaking the pair have become famous for: high-octane, white-knuckled action with over-the-top violence and a dark comedic slant. While known more for their own action vehicles, Neveldine and Taylor also wrote the screenplay for DC Comics’ “Jonah Hex” film adaptation starring Josh Brolin. They return once again to the world of comic books as writer-directors of “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance,” the sequel to 2007’s much-maligned “Ghost Rider” film based on the Marvel Comics character arriving in theaters Friday. While both movies feature Nicolas Cage as Johnny Blaze, the daredevil stuntman turned Spirit of Vengeance, Sony Pictures’ hiring of Neveldine and Taylor as directors also signals a marked departure from the tone and aesthetics of the original film.
CBR News spoke with Neveldine and Taylor about helming the “Ghost Rider” sequel and what they did to set it apart, but the decidedly irreverent conversation also covers underwater porn, “Green Lantern” reboots, their ideal casting for a romantic comedy and wanting to “do” Idris Elba.
CBR News: First of all, I really loved the movie.
Brian Taylor: Really?
Mark Neveldine: [Both laugh] Nic Cage loves it too, so that’s something you two have in common.
I want to go on the record as saying that you guys should direct every comic book adaptation of everything from here on out.
Taylor: Put a notice in to the studios!
Neveldine: We wanted to do “Green Lantern.”
For real? That would’ve been a very, very different movie.
Taylor Yeah. Can you imagine the things he would’ve made with that ring if we’d done it?
Neveldine: It would’ve been like “Weird Science” meets “Crank” meets “Green Lantern.”
Sold! I just bought a ticket! You know what’s kind of funny about that — “Green Lantern” got about as much hatred as the 2007 “Ghost Rider” movie did, so maybe you guys can resurrect it in a few years a-la “Spirit of Vengeance.”
Neveldine: Yeah, they’re kinda doing that with the Hulks and everything else — Batmans and Spider-Mans.
Taylor: Reboot “Green Lantern.” We’d keep nothing but Ryan Reynolds’ ass.
I just bought another ticket!
Taylor: Everything else, gone!
In the screening I attended, it was obvious plenty of others loved the movie as well. There was a guy in front of me who couldn’t stop bouncing up and down in his seat during the opening sequence. When Idris Elba flew off the motorcycle in slow motion, he completely lost it.
Neveldine: Love it! That’s what we’re trying to do! Adrenalize people! Do you want to be our press agent?
Where’s the paperwork?
Taylor: You’re in! Hired!
This is the first time you directed a movie that isn’t from your own material — did you feel any pressure to master the “Ghost Rider” comic book material or keep it faithful for the fans?
Taylor: “Crank” wasn’t our own material. We stole it from some guy at the airport. [Laughs]
That sounds like an alternate storyline.
Neveldine: I didn’t know anything about “Ghost Rider.” I didn’t see the first movie, didn’t know anything about the comics — Brian kind of brought me into that whole world.
Taylor: I was a comic book geek.
Neveldine: He said, “It’s a guy on a motorcycle and his head is on fire!” And I said, “I’m in! Let’s do it!”
Taylor: It seemed like if we were going to do a superhero movie it’s kind of the perfect one for us to do. It’s a satanic motorcycle driving superhero! He’s not really a superhero.
He’s an antihero.
Taylor: He’s an anti-human!
That’s true. I like that you guys threw in a subplot about him embracing the fact that within his demon is an angel.
Taylor: Well, that’s the thing — “Ghost Rider” has been around since the late ’60s, early ’70s?
Neveldine: Definitely before Christ.
Taylor: [Laughs] A long time ago. There’s been a million different “Ghost Rider” comics with different writers, different artists, different mythologies. So when people say, “Did you go to the source material?” — which one? You can kind of do whatever you want, so we just kind of took it from scratch — we weren’t influenced really by the first movie, or really by any of the comic books.
Neveldine: [points to his bottle of VOSS water] Matter of fact, if this was beer, this would’ve been the source material, is what we’re trying to say.
Is that how you guys conduct your brainstorming sessions? Just beer and scrawling on napkins?
Neveldine: [Laughs] Sometimes!
Taylor: Brainstorming — that’s not a good word. [Laughs] But yeah, so we just kind of made up our own back story, our own origin of the Ghost Rider. It’s as good as anyone else’s, I guess.
It certainly lowers the pressure to perform.
Neveldine: And there’s a good angel in all of us.
That’s a sweet sentiment. This is like an after-school special! But seriously, people really hated the first “Ghost Rider” movie. Why did you want to do this? Did you take the franchise’s previous failure as a challenge?
Taylor: It had nothing to do with the first movie — the challenge was, you know, to take our sensibility to a broader world, you know? To a big PG-13 superhero world. What would that look like? And also to do something for us that was like a bigger canvas, more special effects, shooting in Europe — just a lot of fun things we’ve never done before.
And you guys got the coolest performance out of Nic. I don’t think a lot of directors know how to work with him.
Neveldine: We agree.
He was so unglued — that scene when Johnny Blaze has a dude pinned against the wall and keeps attempting not to change into Ghost Rider, then just goes nuts on the motorcycle afterward — instant classic.
Neveldine: We love that you love that, because that’s our favorite.
Taylor: We’re hoping that’ll make the YouTube montages.
No question about it! I just don’t know how you even start to get into Nic’s head long enough to wrangle him on set. I was at your “Ghost Rider” panel at Comic-Con International — remember when he launched into a 20-minute explanation of how his “Drive Angry” character is different from his “Ghost Rider” character due to varying states of deadness? He was very serious about the intricacies.
Taylor: Which is not random. He really thinks about that stuff!
Neveldine: He does. He dives in and researches. We met him in New Orleans and we immediately got into the character and it became like a three-hour conversation just about his character’s center and dealing with, like, what hand did he commit this crime with? You know, with the blood. And talking about how that weight was going to do something to it. And then we got into talking about insects and praying mantises and got online about looking at African tribal dances.
Taylor: And then we got into some scotch and broke into a cemetery.
Neveldine: We did — in New Orleans.
Taylor: It’s another one of those side stories.
What did you do there? Did you make any deals with Satanic henchmen, a-la Rourke in “Ghost Rider?”
Taylor: That’s where we made the deal with Sony, actually. Did you catch our cameo in the movie?
I did. You know what else I caught? The Wilhelm scream!
Neveldine & Taylor: Yes! Yes!!!
Taylor: If ever there was a movie.
Neveldine: So about directing Nic, right — it’s kinda like you see those guys in the rodeo riding the bull, and then the guy who can hold it the longest wins. It’s not like you’re really controlling it, but you’re just kinda trying to contain it for as long as you can. And then let it out.
So that intensity we saw at Comic-Con is the same intensity he brings to set?
Neveldine & Taylor: Oh yeah.
Taylor: Especially when it’s something he really cares about. I mean, he’s passionate about the Ghost Rider. He’s a huge comic book geek. But also — I think he feels like he is the Ghost Rider. You know, he battles with demons like all of us and he struggles to control them just like Johnny Blaze. And so this movie for him — even though it’s a guy in leather on a motorcycle with a skull with his head on fire from a comic book, to us — and to Nic — it’s like that’s a metaphor for our lives.
Neveldine: Our own demons.
Taylor: Yeah, and he took it really seriously and he was really passionate every single day on set, and it was awesome.
I love that every time the dialogue starts to take on an inkling of deep emotion, he just shoots it down with a well-timed one-liner.
Neveldine: You go right towards cliched melodrama — you go right up to it, you almost kiss it, and then you turn around and go the other way.
Let’s talk about the Blackout vision. Visually it was really cool. How did you guys come up with the idea to shoot it that way?
Neveldine: Well, he has the power of darkness and decay, so we just decided to have pools of light on set and play in those pools of light. And then the post effect is something we took a little bit of time trying to figure out.
Taylor: We wanted to make it feel like the light that was seeping in was kind of bending with his world.
Neveldine: It was warping, yeah.
Taylor: But the idea is it’s totally subjective to the victim. There’s a character in the comic who is Blackout — this guy was kind of loosely based on Blackout. But none of the “Ghost Rider” villains are really as iconic as like a Doctor Doom or a Doctor Octopus or some of the more famous villains. So we felt like we had a lot of license to kinda do what we wanted and do a cool version. A lot of it was inspired by Johnny Whitworth’s crazy performance.
Another really cool thing you guys employ in the movie are those graphic interludes. I love that the film has no patience for exposition — it feels like those were born out of that sentiment.
Neveldine: [Laughs] Yeah!
Taylor: Well that’s exactly right, because — you know, as you said — this was not our story, but it was our job to tell it. And there were a lot of places in the story where we felt that there was just a lot of stuff that needed to be explained. And rather than throw it on our actors to be talking heads, we just thought, “Well, let’s just explain it and move on!”
How much of a hand did you guys have in designing those?
Neveldine: Every step of the way.
Taylor: We actually hand animated it ourselves. [Laughs]
You guys do it all! You shoot, you direct, you write, you animate. What else are you going to add to the list?
Taylor: I drew the outlines and then Mark colored it in.
Neveldine: Yeah. Because I can’t draw — Brian’s a really good drawer, but I can color in. I can almost stay in the lines!
Brian: He’s awesome with crayons!
You guys are always collaborating…
[Neveldine & Taylor laugh]
You guys clearly work well as a team, but what do you do when you have a disagreement on set? How do you settle it? Do you arm wrestle?
Taylor: If we arm wrestled, I would never get anything in the movie!
Neveldine: [Laughs] It really comes down to — it’s funny, it’s not about disagreements, it’s about — we run out of ideas. So like, if I run out of ideas then Brian has them and when he runs out of ideas, I have them. We just try to shoot as much as we can and get as much in the camera as we can. And arguments are like this, “Let’s shoot from over here!” “No, let’s shoot from over here!” “Yeah, you’re right. Let’s shoot from over there.”
Taylor: Or let’s do both!
Neveldine: Or we do, a lot — because we both have cameras.
You really took “Ghost Rider” to another level, as far as shooting goes. Here you were on motorcycles, and with “Crank” you shot on rollerblades — that’s a technique you patented, right?
Neveldine & Taylor: Yes!
Taylor: It’s patent pending. [Laughs]
What’s your next innovation in terms of shooting?
Taylor: Underwater porn.
Neveldine: On rollerblades!
Neveldine: Anything stunt-wise, we’ll do it!
Taylor: We’re thinking of going old school, like actually using the roller skates with the metal wheels next time.
Didn’t “Boogie Nights” already do that?
Neveldine: Yeah — retro!
Would you guys ever just break out of the action genre and do a rom-com or a period romance or something?
Neveldine: Comedy, yeah!
What’s your comedy? Pitch it to me!
Taylor: Well, I mean — you gotta get Matthew McConaughey. And you gotta get, probably, Kate Hudson.
Neveldine: Yep. Definitely Matthew to get the push-ups going on set.
Taylor: Yeah, and then what happens is they bump into each other in some random way — the last two people you could ever imagine hooking up — and then, BAM!
Neveldine: He sea-slays her.
Taylor: [Shoots Mark a confused look] Dude!
Who would your ideal leading lady be if you were to re-cast one of your movies with a female lead?
Neveldine: Yeah. Cher’s pretty great. Meryl [Streep]. We love Meryl.
Have you guys seen “Haywire?” I think you guys would crush it with Gina Carano.
Neveldine: I haven’t — I want to see that! I saw the trailer, it looks amazing!
You should — she kicks ass.
Neveldine: It’s really her! She does all that shit!
She’s an ex-MMA fighter!
Neveldine: Yeah, she’s going to be in one of our movies.
Taylor: How much better would it be with Cher though?
I know we’re short on time, so let’s talk about “Crank 3!”
You guys are brainstorming your top 50 ideas right now, yes?
Is that usually how you start — you just make a dream list?
Neveldine: Just drink beer and come up with a lot of ideas — I mean, there’s a billion ideas for “Crank 3.” There’s prequels and sequels.
Taylor: We thought about jumping right to Crank 10, doing that one, and then coming back and doing 3 through 9. So we’re gonna do it — we’re gonna probably write it later this year and next year we’re gonna dive in and make it happen. Jason [Statham] wants to do it, we want to do it and the studios want to do it.
Would you ever have considered doing it without Jason?
Taylor: We have to have Jason.
Taylor: Well, Idris would be amazing.
Could you do that, please? I love him.
Taylor: [Laughs] Doesn’t everybody want to do Idris?
Neveldine: Even a straight man wants to do Idris!
Taylor: He’s really funny and charming and cool in our movie, huh?
It’s a totally different side of him!
Neveldine: There were some concerns initially saying maybe he’s too laid back and he’s not charismatic enough.
Taylor: Or he’s too icy, he’s too cold.
Neveldine: But we knew it. If you watch any of his interviews, you see that light come out.
Taylor: But you know, also, people said the same stuff about Jason.
Neveldine: They did!
Taylor: And we thought of him as being funny and being a leading man.
Just so you know, you guys are basically responsible for corrupting my sweet, innocent little sister.
Taylor: Oh, that was her? [Laughs]
Very funny! She knows nothing about movies, so she called me one day to describe a movie she saw on TV, because she thought the guy in it was insanely hot and she wanted to buy it. She described “Crank” to me. So now my baby sister owns that insane sex scene. Thanks a lot, guys.
Neveldine: It’s the butt shot. It gets all the girls. We’re about public sex.
I want you guys to up the ante on that one in “Crank 3,” please.
Taylor: Well they cut the public sex scene out of “Ghost Rider,” unfortunately.
At least you got to keep the peeing while on fire.
Taylor: Actually, that was part of it!
Neveldine: It went from that, it moved on and developed.
I don’t even want to think about what was on fire during the sex scene.
Taylor: It was kind of like the “Team America” scene. But maybe on the Blu-ray!
“Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” starring Nicolas Cage, Idris Elba and Johnny Whitworth hits theaters nationwide this Friday, February 17.