Down the line from the Warner Bros lot in Los Angeles, Brad Peyton (director of Earthquake film San Andreas) was interesting and obviously proud of this huge disaster spectacle about to be unleashed in cinemas. In a season full of reboots or sequels, this is neither. The stirring rendition of song ‘California Dreaming’ in the trailer gets the pulse racing over spectacular scenes with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson as a rescue chopper pilot under pressure to journey across the state in the aftermath of destruction to save his estranged daughter (Alexandria Daddario). It was filmed prominently in Queensland including a Gold Coast shopping centre where trolley-pushing locals were shut out unexpectedly due to explosive real time pyrotechnics. Kylie Minouge also makes a rare appearance.
Shane A. Bassett – Have you ever experienced an earthquake yourself first-hand?
Brad Peyton – Yes I have. Not a big one but I have been through the experience. It was weird, it was late I was playing videogames at 3am. I thought maybe I was just really tired as the room quietly moved, straight away thinking ‘Oh My God, its time to go to bed, this is strange’. But only after it stopped and saw pictures on the wall still moving I realised it was an actual earthquake. So surreal because growing up in California I’ve not had one happen until then. The ground moving is a very odd thing, the floor literally went unbalanced.
SAB – Did you use any of that particular memory for your film?
BP – (Laughs) The earthquakes in the film are substantially bolder than the earthquake I experienced. When we were trying to capture the event in which the story is based on, the largest recorded earthquake in the history of the world, all you can really do is a pile of research from video footage to still shots to literature, anything you can find that can ground the cinematic imagery. Looking at all that we wanted to build from that to how real this film looked like.
SAB – Did you go back at any point to the 1974 classic film?
BP – Great question, I did and lots of people ask me about the 70s disaster film era but you know, I didn’t go back to them as a whole for inspiration. When you build a movie, I’m trying to make it my own not really looking to other movies so much. Your focus is telling the story how you want it told. The two that inspired me the most were Children of Men (2006) and James Cameron’s Titanic (1997) – those were perfect for totally different reasons. Titanic has big emotional content and heart to the story around the large spectacle, while Children of Men is very grounded with long takes with hand held cameras. Those two factors I wanted to combine, even though they don’t feel like obvious choices, those were the only ones. My main focus was script, the characters and how I would tell this story.
SAB – You make it sound from the heart and almost easy.
BP – No, it was very nerve-wracking with nothing to look to except what I want to do. It’s why I am most proud of this movie, the truest thing from my point of view in my career.
SAB – Was it your choice to film much of the production in Australia?
BP – Everything in pre-production is always a conversation between a creative and financial, I’m firmly on creative keeping a distance from financial. Deciding where we could go to match the sights of California and also do what we need to do within the budget. Specifically where could we go with a sound stage encompassing a massive water tank that could sink a skyscraper. Very hard to find a tank large enough to house a building above only to be dropped below, technically huge feats were accomplished.
SAB – How difficult was it to make the streets of the Gold Coast look like iconic beachside California?
BP – Aside from everybody driving on the wrong side of the street, it was easy. We switched cars around when shooting scenes from windows. It’s weird because I found Australia to have a European signage vibe to watch out for. We call them elevators but everywhere in the malls there are signs for lifts, so during production we had to be aware to change little things like that in the background. We had a great location scout, inside a lobby of a building during one scene you’re looking out a window. You can see a bridge in Brisbane that everyone thinks back home is the Bay Bridge in San Francisco, a blue grey looking bridge that is exact so it turned into one of many happy accidents of similarities along the way. An Australian crew is one of the best ever, that’s a fact too.
SAB – You have things like the Golden Gate Bridge and Hollywood Sign being destroyed, do you need permission to use those kind of iconic landmarks in your film?
BP – Certain things you do, I am not sure of the regulations on some structures but those two we could sign off on.
SAB – Your lead Dwayne Johnson speaks highly of you, it’s your second film with him. What trust do you share?
BP – I shouldn’t sound so surprised we have attained trust, a great working relationship. The experience I had on Journey 2 was memorable, we certainly look different, he’s much more in shape (laughs) but we have similarities. Both hard working, blue collar upbringings, share intuitive ideas and we know each other well enough that the most important thing for both of us on-set everyday is to make the best film possible. Literally every decision is being diagnosed to bring out the best, his knowledge of that is obvious creating a safe environment for the whole cast. I’m watching out for them, people who are fans of Dwayne will love him no matter what. He is amazing, the best I’ve ever seen him, heroically honourable, I feel like he is going to make further fans off this.
SAB – Sounds like it was important to you to keep people on the edge of their seats gasping but lacing the film with light humour?
BP – It was the most important thing during the whole process, co-star Carla Gugino (Son in Law, Sucker Punch) said to me the emotions are grounded and real. During the filming of gigantic action sequences, I was aware not to lose heart. I navigated around spectacle to show that I cared for the characters the audience will connect to, you care about the people not just the event that happens to them.
SAB – Casting Kylie Minogue was intrepid, so well loved globally but only does rare film roles.
BP – I knew who she was growing up in Newfoundland (Canada) which was part of England until 1950 so British culture still skews. I knew she was an Aussie talent from all the music videos I saw as a kid. Carla is also her friend, she came up to me one day stating there was a rumour I might be casting Kylie. I responded, It’s true I hear good things then Carla went into meltdown and couldn’t say enough great things about Kylie. She auditioned and what an outstanding person, tiny like a pixie you can understand she was the Green Fairy in Moulin Rouge, so grounded and easy to work with, a surprise pleasure to have her in my film. More number one hits in the UK than The Beatles too, that’s incredible.
SAB – Did you change much of the screenplay or delete/add scenes during filming?
BP – Carlton Cuse (writer) was off doing Bates Motel most of the time so mainly worked with him in preparation, I had two on-set writers, we didn’t really add scenes we cut some stuff. My idea is to refine the script up until the shoot then maybe change lines while brainstorming with the actors, this helps me shape scenes in the upcoming schedule adapting as I go. This script was solid.
SAB – On Cats & Dogs 2, you reunited Nick Nolte and Bette Midler from Down & Out in Beverly Hills. How were they to work with?
BP – Both very different, Bette because of her background in singing. She honestly sounded lyrical during every line of dialogue, 100% focussed on character nuances, so cognitive dissecting lines to perfection. Nick I really like, what I loved was he gets into pockets or zones if you will of intuitive acting from his gut. During one particular scene (voice recording), it was literally ’48 Hours’ classic Nolte before my eyes. The energy was phenomenal in one take, every single line used. Both fantastic people I enjoyed working with.
SAB – Good luck with box office success.
BP – Thanks, it’s a big screen must. Great talking to you Shane.
By Shane A. BassettSydney Unleashed is one of Australia’s premier entertainment publications exploring the latest in lifestyle trends. From Sydney’s finest restaurants, cafes and bars to the hottest in gadgets, products, and home entertainment, Sydney Unleashed is your one-stop lifestyle platform.