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Ghost Rider comic books

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 9, 2006

GHOST RIDER PRESS EVENT: MARK STEVEN JOHNSON

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- The Continuum today concludes its five-part report on the recent Ghost Rider press event at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery with an interview with writer/director Mark Steven Johnson.

Following is an edited transcription of a roundtable question-and-answer session.

Question: So Mark, obviously, you've had enough time to do everything you wanted to do on this film, post-production wise?

Johnson: Well, close, and there's never everything that you want. You know, you always want more. That's just the nature of the beast. It's tough because you can't shoot it like a normal movie, because every time there is a close-up of Ghost Rider, it's gonna cost you 50 grand. You know, what I mean, and if it's a wide shot, it's 100 grand. So you can't cover it the way you normally would, you always want more coverage than you have. It's not like a normal movie because your hero is a special effect. That's the tough part for me, you always want to add more than you can, but at what cost? Tt's a very expensive character, that's why it's been so tough to pull off.

Question: Can you talk about the genesis of you coming on board. Stephen Norrington and David Goyer were involved at one point, did you take a peak at what Goyer had done?

Johnson: Of course, sure.

Question: Did anything carry over?

Johnson: Yeah, there's a couple of scenes. There's a scene in the prison cell where he, everybody jumps on him and starts beating him. He turns into the Ghost Rider and explodes and burns his way through the bars so, a little bit of that. And that's from Steve Norrington, or I should say David, David wrote that and I really liked that a lot.

And I loved David's script, I thought it was great. It was a different script, you know, and it's just the nature of the beast. When you come on, you want to make your own version of the movie. Goyer's was very dark, a very hard R, which is cool, you know, but it's one of those things, it's my deal with the devil, if you will, that if you want to make a Ghost Rider movie, it's expensive. You know, it's like you can make like The Crow, or Blade or something, it's so expensive that it's like, ok, if you're gonna give me all the money to make this movie right then I've got to responsible and try to get everyone I can to come to this film and not make it like a cult film, to make it a big film as it should be.

Question: Are you gonna try and go PG-13?

Johnson: We are PG-13. Yeah, which I am actually really happy and surprised about. Because I was expecting to have to cut stuff out to make, you know, from the R. Because Daredevil was an R and I had to cut things out to make it PG-13, this is just like, there's so much stuff I thought, "Oh my God we're dead," but we did it, we made it, which is amazing.

And you know what, what made Daredevil an R? There's a scene where Bullseye kills Elektra, he gutted her and that was ok. He kissed her afterwards and then he threw her down. The kiss that gave us an R. Isn't that funny? Yeah, it's OK to kill a girl you just can't kiss her afterward. Somehow, that's repulsive.

Question: So this cut that you currently have, it's everything that you want? You're getting everything from the studio?

Johnson: Oh yeah, the studio has been great. Sony gets it. Sony has had so much success with Spider-Man that they understand Marvel, they appreciate it, they get it. Again, it's not Spider-Man, it's not X-Men or Fantastic Four, it's a very unknown character to most people, Ghost Rider. So for them to give you the money to do it right, and it's not a cheap movie, says a lot for Sony -- that they believe in it and they are ready to take that gamble and they support it. They've been great.

Question: Because it's an unknown character does that give you more leeway, more freedom>

Johnson: It does. It also does because I, again, I am the biggest fan of this comic in the world, you now what I mean. But also, it's not a perfect comic. I can't lie to anybody the fans of the comic know this too. It's not like Spider-Man that you look at and go, God, that's perfect, you know what I mean, so many stories, so many great villains and whatever. Ghost Rider has great stories, an amazing look, which attracted me to it, but it's also very flawed in some ways.

The origin of it has been very mixed up. And they keep trying to change it and update it and it got more confusing and more confusing until nobody knew what to make of it. So my goal to come in was, OK, I need to pay tribute to the character and the origin. But I also gotta streamline things, I gotta make things simple, so people could understand what the hell was going on.

Question: You merged the Ketch/Johnny Blaze, did you bring in the whole Noble Kale backstory?

Johnson: No way, see that's what I'm talkin' about, that stuff is too much. You can't do that, that's what turned people off to the comic, they start reading them and go on to Wikipedia, and look up Ghost Rider and start going through the backstory and you just start going, "I can't follow this." You know what I mean, it's too much.

And the bottom line is, all you need to know is that Mephistopheles comes from Faust, right? He's a specific kind of devil, he's not the Devil. He make you sign a contract in blood and you want something, you go to Mephistopheles, he makes you a deal and he owns your soul. And so my idea was like, wait a minute, OK, why did Mephisto give the Ghost Rider all this power and then the Ghost Rider used it against him and he looks like a fool? Makes the devil look like a dupe.

You know, so, my idea was always just like OK, let's make it real clear, he goes to the best rider in the world. In the old days it was on horse back, today it's on motorcyle or car or whatever, and he goes to them, he looks at the best rider and says, "You will be my bounty hunter. If something gets out of Hell and doesn't belong here, I'm gonna send you after it to pull it back."

Very simple, there's Heaven, there's Hell, there's our world. If something gets out of Hell, Mephisto's job, the Devil's job is, well you don't belong here. You have to come back. We have to keep the balance. That was the deal 'til the end of time. That's biblical, right? So the deal is that he goes to Johnny as a kid and makes his deal to save his Dad from cancer. Screws him over, as the Devil always does, and so Johnny grows up, becomes the Ghost Rider, the Devil's bounty hunter, and that, to me, make sense. You know what I mean, for the first time I was like, "OK, that's really clear."

It's funny because when Steve Norrington, who was attached to the old version was very sweet. I never met him, but he sent me an email one day that said "I really dug Daredevil, I really liked it." And he said, "I'm really happy you are doing Ghost Rider, just wanted you to know I tried to make it for years and I couldn't and good luck." I called him and said, "Hey wanna go have a beer and talk trade war stories of Daredevil versus League of Extraordinary Gentlemen?," which turned into several beers and many hours later.

And he was wonderful. He was like, what is it? And I told him and he goes, "Fuck, you solved it, that's it." The Ghost Rider is the Devil's bounty hunter, it makes so much sense, it's so clear. I'm gonna give you all this power to work for me, to do this job. And Johnny's heroic thing is the Devil says to him, find my son, in our movie, you know, every once in a while something gets out of hell, but in our movie it's the son of the Devil, which has never happened. The Devil says, find my son, bring him back to me, destroy him and I'll give you your soul back.

Question: What made you decide to shoot in Victoira (Australia) and how did the shoot go?

Johnson: You know, we started scouting Texas, where the movie's set, and everywhere else and to be honest, it was monetary reasons. It was cheaper to go to Australia. And I thought, "No, it's gotta be here, it's gotta be here." And then I went to Australia and everybody goes to Sydney, which is beautiful, but I went to Melbourne, I just fell in love. Melbourne, it's the greatest city in the world. And it looks like so many different cities and it's so beautiful and people are so cool. The whole movie became a love affair with Melbourne. It really did.

Question: Did you like shooting there?

Johnson: What's not to like? Everyone is like, "Whatever you need." They're just happy that you're here, bringing money to the economy. It was just fantastic. We were all homesick from Melbourne, all of ust talk about it all of the time. When you watch the scene you saw today on the bridge, everything, it's a valentine to Melbourne, Australia, it really is.

Question: How do what audiences to see this movie, do you want them coming in with the comic book knowledge?

Johnson: You can't, it's just too small, as much as I love them and I am one of them, we're a very small percentage. You gotta go beyond that otherwise you are making it for too small an audience.

Question: Again, you want to come back to the basic tenents of what the movie is about. What would you do for love? That's what the movie's about. Would you sell your soul for love, you know what I mean, would you ride through Hell for love, what would you do? And that's what the movie is truly about. Once you do that, everybody can relate. You see the poster, it's not the Ghost Rider and the Hellcycle, it's Nick and Eva's faces and the Ghost Rider's this big. There's a reason, you know what I mean. The Ghost Rider is important, obviously, it's called Ghost Rider, but it's about these two people, it's about love, it's about Johnny makes a deal for love for his father and then he continues to fight because of his love for his girl and that's what the movie's about.

Question: How did you go about finding your Ghost Rider? Nic is something of a nerd for comics, he really loves the book. It must have been a surprise to find a big movie star that also loves the comic book.

Johnson: Yeah, but it's really common. A lot of these actors, like me, grew up with it. It's just a big thing in America, you grow up with comic books. You learn to read on comic books. You know what I mean, it's pictures and words, it's the perfect thing. You know, you go from storybooks to comic books. Nic was involved before I was involved. So it wasn't like, who's gonna be Ghost Rider? It was, Nic is Ghost Rider I hope he likes my take. So I came in that way.

Question: Knowing that Nic was involved, did you write the script catering to his personality?

Johnson: You write the best Johnny Blaze you can and to be honest, it's funny, because you have all your weaknesses as a writer and your strengths as a writer, and I remember writing Johnny Blaze for the first time, he was drining Jack Daniels out the bottle with the chain smoking thing, I remember giving Nick the first draft and he was really honest, he was like, "I don't know anybody who drinks Jack Daniels out of the bottle." I thought, I don't either, but they are always in the movies. Who does that?

This is like nobody, so then you start talking to Nic and he brings something different to it. Then Nic starts saying really far out things, and they are so far out, they're honest. It's like when Johnny Depp did Pirates, he played it kind of like a gay, drunk, Keith Richards and the studio freaked out and they were like, "What are you doing?" He was doing something different, but there was something in that character that made it honest.

And Nic did the same thing. He was just like, "If you didn't know any minute you were going to turn in Ghost Rider, what would it be like?" And Nic said, "It would be like I'm in a dentist's chair. And that music, that Muzak, playing and any moment you are gonna go and it's going to be painful and horrible and you're gonna try to calm yourself and keep yourself safe because any moment you're gonna change. That was really smart and interesting and different and Nic always brings that.

Question: What did you learn from Daredevil, negative and positive feedback you've gotten online, for Ghost Rider. Did you ever go back and say, OK, "Fans didn't like this about Daredevil so let's make sure we get this right on Ghost Rider?"

Johnson: It's night and day, to be quite honest with you, Daredevil wasn't...I really owe Fox because I know that I've slammed them in the past, which isn't fair because it was a very tough shoot. I had to fight for everything, as I've said in the past, on that movie. They didn't want a costume, they didn't want horns, they didn't want anything, so everything in that movie was a fight. It was just very difficult and there are scenes in the movie that I am really proud of and things that didn't work. It was a very difficult, difficult shoot.

This movie's even bigger. It's a bigger movie, bigger star, bigger everything. But they got it, so that made it much easier for me. So far as what I learned, so much. I was going from only directing one small movie to a 75-million dollar movie to now a 100 million dollar plus movie, but I knew about visual effects, I knew about action, I knew so much more than I did back then. So, the answer is, even though it was a bigger movie, it was much easier this time.

Question: There was never a Judge Dredd moment where they said, well, we love the film, but we can't turn it into a skull>

Johnson: Never, no. I wouldn't have done it again, I've already been through that. Last time, it was like, "We love Daredevil but we don't want to do horns and a costume, that's silly." And I go like, "Well, that's it, that's the character." You know, and that's the hard part, and when fans would get angry and say well he's in a leather costume, Daredevil, and so it's not what the comic is. And you want to just say, "I love you guys but you don't understand, there was no costume. I fought just to get a costume. To have the horns and double D was months of fighting." And again no one's the bad guy here, they gave me a big shot and they were very supportive in the end, but these movies are very difficult, they are very hard. Sony is very supportive, they really get it. And Marvel gets it, well of course Marvel, they are your biggest heroes.

But, again, they had so much success with Spider-Man, they trust it, there's a reason this character has stuck around. Again, the other characters have amazing storylines and amazing villains. They've been around for years. Spider-Man, like the Rogues Gallery, take your pick, there are so many great people to pick from. Ghost Rider doesn't have that. Say, who is the greatest Ghost Rider villain? And people go, what? So you go, Ghost Rider has existed solely because of the image. The flaming skull and the Harley, it's just something about it. It's a very visual image that sticks in your head. People get it in tattoos, they put it on their motorcycles, it's been around forever because of the image. So, that tells me that it's going to translate to film better than most.

Question: Did the research you did for this kind of prep you for Preacher?

Johnson: Preacher, I've always wanted to do. Preacher is like, you know, it's the greatest, but it's so difficult. And I love it more than anybody and I remember reading a script a while ago it was gonna go to film and I was like, "Oh, how do you make a two-hour movie from Preacher?" You can't do it. So, when I went into HBO I said, very simply, here's the comic, there's 75 issues plus the four issue Saint of Killers, every issue in an hour. It's a six-year show. And HBO, God bless them, went, "Cool!"

Question: So are you staying pretty loyal to the whole storyline?

Johnson: No, not loyal, exact. So it's like, we had our first meeting the other day, I kept waiting for them to go, "We're not doing this!" It's like, "I want Odin Quincannon having sex with a meat person." If I can do that, I've made my mark on the world. Everything is just like so out there. Fuckin' HBO's got balls, they were like, "Yeah bring it! Do it!"

It's just like Daredevil, it's just like Ghost Rider, no one comes to your door and says, "Hey, you want to do these movies?" I'm the last guy. But I'm the guy that gets it done because I care and because I do it. People have tried to make Daredevil, they've tried to make Ghost Rider, it hasn't happened, but I got it made. And Daredevil with mixed results, Ghost Rider I hope much better. The Preacher I hope exact.

In fact, today, I e-mailed Kevin Smith, I was like, "Dude, I just got Preacher, I know you love it, if it goes, and who knows if it will, will you please direct an episode?" Because I want to go to Kevin, I want to go to Robert Rodriguez, I want to go to all these people and do guest directors. That would be really cool. I want it to be a prestige thing. "You love Preacher? Come do a show." Usually it's a guest actor, I want it to be guest director. But keep the spirit of it, keep the vibe of it but also know, there will be a different imprint everytime who comes to direct the show. My job is to help write the shows, I am working with Garth (Ennis) everyday, he's a big part of it, make sure it's exactly what we want and let the director put his imprint on it. But it's gotta be the book.

Question: Do you know where you are shooting or anything?

Johnson: I haven't even written it yet. My meeting was yesterday. Again, who knows what will happen? My fingers are crossed it's going to go. They've been trying to make Preacher, like Daredevil and Ghost Rider, for years and years and years.

Question: As the series kicks in, is Garth going to be there everyday if he wants to be?

Johnson: If he wants to be, absolutely. My first meeting was yesterday, and Garth is in New York so he was on speaker phone and like all meetings when there's 20 people in the room and one person on the speaker phone you all go like this (leans forward) and stare at the speaker phone.

And with Garth, I had never met him, so it was so great to talk to him and ask him questions, and as it always happens, with the creators, they're like, don't be beholden to the source material, I just did that cause, A, B, or C. They were like, do whatever you want. I was like, "No, no, no, it's gotta be exactly that." So he's the one going, use your own thing. But, with Garth's help, I said to Garth, also tell me are there any stories you wanted to tell but weren't able to. Was there something that you wanted to do but didn't have time, I want to hear that too! We want to fill it out, we want to make it, a six-year show, or above with a definite, ending the way it does, which is obviously, incredibly controversial. Again, nobody would have the balls to do this but HBO.

Question: Do you think it will be harder or easier to do it so exactly unlike Ghost Rider where you could play with it, open it up and pick and choose what you like?

Johnson: Right, no, no, no, Ghost Rider is, came in and out of circulation for years for a reason -- because it had flaws. Again, the image was great the idea was great adn so my goal was to find out what were the strengths and then what could I bring to it? Like I said, the bounty hunter was my idea. I think it's a good idea, it helps the whole thing be stronger. And the creators and the comic people said, "Great! We want to do that!" Preacher doens't need that. Preacher's perfect, in my opinion. All the things that made people go, "No it's not for me," make me go, "Yeah!" That's what I am so excited about.

Question: You've dabbled with Marvel, you're dabbling with DC/Vertigo are we going to see you tackle something else, a Dark Horse product, Grendel, The Goon...any other comic book character that you want to do?

Johnson: There are so many. There are so many good ones. For a long time, I literally believed that, and even though I am not attached to it, I'll say it if it helps get it set up, Midnight Nation was a really cool story. And Joe (Straczynski) is such a great author and I tried to set that up for a minute and nothing happened with it, but, people should read Midnight Nation. I think that would be a great series, again, it's like that journey. It's like The Stand, Stephen King's The Stand, it's like, I'm in, I want to see what happens to these people, or like a Lost or anything else. But there's many, but right now, my focus is all on getting this out and doing Preacher right.

Question: Going back to Ghost Rider, was there a higher stress level than you anticipated doing a movie about a flaming skull? Fire is very tough to do CG, did you go in going, CG's ready for this, I can do this now>

Johnson: CG fire, yes I thought it would be easier, we all did. Literally, we come out Feb. 16, we were supposed to come out August. Literally, there will be effects being delivered up until the end of January, January 30. Because we had to write new programs, because fire's fucking tricky man. It's like, if you look at fire, and then you move it you put it on film, 24 frames per second, it changes everything. It looks really flickering and light and not strong so you add liquid to it to make it look smoother and feel stronger and what not.

But then Ghost Rider goes that way and the fire stays here, which it really would. It would be like a ghost image, we don't want that, it looks weird. Fire has got to be with Ghost Rider. He commands the fire, the fire doesn't command him. All these little things that become your life.

It's like I've always said, you look at the greatest CG creations, like Gollum and maybe the last Pirates, Davey Jones, it's amazing right? Those things are great because they have expression. They have eyes, Gollum's eyes are huge and you've got lines in the eyes and the lips and the teeth. We don't have any of that. We have no expression. you got a skull, it's got no eyes, it's got no lips, no tongue, no wrinkles. All it's got is a fuckin' skull. So you gotta deal with that and my idea was, let's use the fire to give expression and so once you do that it's a whole new thing. The fire's gonna change color and it gets smaller when he's sad, go blue, angry it goes white hot and gets super high and it's just like...so that became a whole other thing.

Question: Of all the Ghost Rider, so how much of it is Nic and how much CGI?

Johnson: Everytime you see Ghost Rider it's CGI.

Question: 100 percent?

Johnson: But a lot of the times, Nic is doing the expression, so it's his body language and his movement and his talking and everything else. What it would be basically is Nic, or Eddie his stunt double, depending on the scene and how violent it was, they wear a grean neoprene-like skin diver head with interactive lighting collar. To give the interactive light to the flames. So they do that, we remove the head, put the skull on, put the flame on and then it's like how much flame do you put in the eyes so it's not cartoony, but you want to put light in the eyes so it doesn't go totally black, black just disappears.

Question: So the body most of the time is really him?

Johnson: Yes, it's always Nic or Eddie, his stuntman, one of the two all the time.

Question: Is the transformation all CG as well?

Johnson: It's just Nic, yeah, with us putting CG cracks and flames. Which is one of the things I thought would be giving us the R.

Question: The skull is based on Nic's skull?

Johnson: Yes, it's Nic's skull. Weird isn't it?

Question: You make a really painful transformation, kind of like Kessler in American Werewolf in London.

Johnson: That's exactly what we were going for. Even the tone of the movie is that, it's American Werewolf in London.

Question: You had that kind of moment where she's, you know, all the cops are surrounding him and she's walking towards him it's kind of like the end of American Werewolf...

Johnson: Yeah, that's right. They always love those scenes that are like movie scenes that aren't real scenes, like when a girl is walking out and all the cops are like fire! There's a girl right there! (laughter) But I love that! It's movie logic!

Question: I love the nod to the western Ghost Rider, how much of a role does he have in the film?

Johnson: He plays a signigicant role. A lot of people think that shot you saw at the end is the end of the movie, but it's not. It's actually the kickoff for the second act. It's the handing off of the baton. The old Ghost Rider is saying, "Now it's your turn, go fight him." The end of the world and everything else is on your shoulders. The differences between Nic as the Ghost Rider and other Ghost Riders is that he didn't sell his soul for greed, or riches, or for fame or anything else. He sold it for love and that makes him different. Which I really like.

Question: Did the success of Heroes have any impact on the Preacher deal?

Johnson: I haven't seen it and we didn't talk about it. I haven't seen it, but I hear it's great. We've never talked about it.

I think comic books have done so well, that Heroes didn't matter as far as HBO people picking this up. Because we've been in this for a long time.

Question: Can you talk about Peter Fonda and Sam Elliott?

Johnson: Sam Elliott is the man. You talk about big stars and you'll be in Australia and you walk around with Sam Elliott and people just smile. It's like, "Yeah!" They're come over to us and if it's a guy, Sam will go, "Watch. Roadhouse." "Dude! Roadhouse! I love you in Roadhouse!"

Question: What I wanted to do was create a movie with a distinct feel, a Western, a super-hero Western that's gothic, like a Hammer film meets Once Upon a Time in the West. And Sam's that. You see Sam and you're like, "OK, I'm in. It's real. It's good."

With Fonda, I wanted to get the ultimate motorcycle icon, which is Easy Rider, Captain America. Which makes this the first crossover film. (laughs) Captain America vs. Ghost Rider, you heard it here!



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