Whether he’s fighting on land, in the air, or at sea, people just can’t seem to get enough Liam Neeson – or that’s what studios are hoping, at least. Ever since his role in Taken, Liam has seen his skyrocketing action hero stock grant him numerous ass-kicking roles, most recently in the upcoming airplane thriller Non-Stop.
Guiding Mr. Neeson on yet another deadly adventure is director Jaume Collet-Serra, a frequent collaborator with producer Joel Silver. You know Jaume from films like House of Wax, Orphan and Unknown, but now he’s taking to the skies to conquer his fear of flying once and for all – by trying to kill passengers and blow up a plane.
While Jaume was in New York City a few weekends ago promoting his new film, I had the pleasure of sitting down and talking Non-Stop with him in an exclusive interview. Covering a multitude of topics, Jaume talked to me about Liam Neeson’s surprise success in the action genre, the logistics of filming a one location thriller, his relationship with producer Joel Silver, and how important technology is in movies these days.
Strap in and enjoy the ride!
WGTC: Were you given full insight into the air marshal process? Were there any secrets that agencies wanted to hold when you were collaborating with them on Non-Stop?
Jaume Collet-Serra: It was so early in the process. As Joel [Silver] said, we had the concept and the world, but we didn’t have the mechanics of it. They were pretty open. The people that I talked to were the people that trained air marshals. They’re not active, but they had been active. They’re not officials, to say. One of the things they told us was this idea that if you put a bomb on the back door, put the luggage on top of it, and went down to 8,000 feet, there’s a possibility that you might survive. They said “if you put that in the movie, you’re doing us all a big favor because God forbid if that ever happened, and people remember Liam Neeson did that, maybe they can save the plane?”
WGTC: I bet they just wanted a reason to put Liam Neeson in their airplane pamphlets…
Jaume Collet-Serra: [Laughs] That’s something the air marshals stressed as a crazy scenario that there is a plan for – those were some of the interesting things. Everything else is real. Air marshals work in pairs, usually one in each cabin, they communicate by text, and something that we didn’t use is that there’s always a gun in the cockpit, so there would be a third gun on the plane.
WGTC: You keep working with Joel Silver, so I want to know what kind connection you two have formed by this point, and what do you love about working with him?
Jaume Collet-Serra: It’s just trust. Obviously Joel is someone who, besides being a legendary producer, actually really, really loves movies and is very knowledgeable. I have a partner that I can trust will do the right thing for the movie, because he loves the movies – he loves making money too – but he loves the movies.
As a director, even if you’re working on commercial films, I’m still giving a year and a half of my life. They’re not necessarily movies that will win an Oscar, but they’re still my babies. You want to work with producers who you know aren’t going to take the baby and do bad things with it. On the other hand, he feels that I have the same obsession for post-production that he does. I bring all the elements into the editing room, it’s not like a director who just shoots single set-ups, I shoot lots of coverage.
WGTC: You work with a lot of red herrings on Non-Stop, and in your press conference you mentioned all the stereotypes you use, but is it hard manipulating characters and making sure everyone is perceived as a suspect?
Jaume Collet-Serra: Not for me it wasn’t. As I was developing the mechanics of the mystery, I didn’t know who the bad guy was. Literally, I was on page 75 and I realized who it was. Before that I was doing an honest story, and one day, one day close to the release of the film, I’ll tell the story of how I came up with everything, and you’ll see how stupid it is. [Laughs] My inspiration, it’s very stupid, because sometimes when you’re creative you can look at a stupid thing, and turn it into a genius idea. I think that’s what happened in this movie.
WGTC: What initially drew you to Non-Stop?
Jaume Collet-Serra: It had Liam already, but the way I came on board this movie was not the usual way. Liam was on board before I was, because I had other projects. I was doing Akira, but that project hit a road bump, and they had other directors they were considering, so I became available. That’s when they approached me for Non-Stop.
I was interested in the one location thriller, which I think every director should attempt at one point, and because of my personal fear of flight I thought, “Perfect!”
WGTC: So you just mentioned the one setting of the film – what challenges does that present? I think an airplane is especially hard because there’s essentially no escape…
Jaume Collet-Serra: Building tension wasn’t hard because I always am very good at that. For me it’s hard not to have tension. The hardest thing is, well, everything. Nothing is easy. I had to shoot the movie completely out of order for many reasons, mostly technical, but it was so hard to put the camera in one direction and then turn around. Once you’re there, you want to shoot every fucking scene you can that way, so that meant shooting half a scene, another half a scene, another half a scene, and then returning to a scene you might have shot the day before. The whole movie was shot completely out of order. The plane was designed to fit the shots. I came up with every shot before I built the plane, which was hard because they were already building the plane and I’d keep coming up with new shots, so they’d have to widen a door or such. The plane and I were one. The plane’s design was evolving as I came up with the shots. Then it was execution and the craziness of having 300 people confidently in the plane. The only calm moments were when you were actually shooting. When you say cut people stand up in the aisles, the equipment, everything – it was pure madness. Everything was incredibly difficult.
I remember the frustration of not being able to do anything fast. Nothing. It doesn’t matter. You put the same amount of time into a crane as you do shooting a handheld.