Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the press conference for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Paramount’s new film adaptation of the 30-year-old comic book franchise. Director Jonathan Liebesman, stars Megan Fox and Will Arnett, and writers Evan Daugherty, Josh Applebaum, and Andre Nemec were on hand to answer questions about the movie, and while you can read our full review here, this is a good representation of what the filmmakers’ mindsets as this film was coming together. I’ve compiled a list of the best quotes from the afternoon below, from not sexualizing April O’Neil to Megan Fox’s comments about the film’s haters and more.
On the secret of the staying power of the Turtles:
Jonathan Liebesman: I was a fan of it in South Africa watching the cartoons and the movies, and for me what was so cool was the personalities of the turtles – the fact that they were created as these absurd teenage mutant ninja turtles, but were so relatable. I remember when I met Kevin Eastman [co-creator of TMNT], he was camped out at Brad [Fuller] and Andrew [Form]’s office, and he told me he created them as a parody on superheroes. Again, the fact that they’re so absurd makes you interested, but the fact that they’re so relatable keeps you interested. And I think that’s what will keep people interested [for] even more than 30 years, no matter what the iteration of Ninja Turtles is, whether it’s this movie or another cartoon series. They’re so absurd, and that makes you want to watch – the fact that they’re Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it’s the weirdest combination of things, but the fact that they’re actually just normal personalities is I think what will keep us watching.
On special effects and CGI:
Liebesman: It’s not only the special effects, but because [Michael] Bay was involved, it allowed us to have an amount of money to create a scope and have special effects that we had seen successfully done in movies like [Rise of the] Planet of the Apes. It allowed us to keep that bar raised, so to speak. But I think the real challenge of the movie is something that I would have to give credit to not myself, but people like the writers, because they didn’t allow the technology to get in the way of the characters’ charm, which is what made me a fan in the first place. So it’s almost like I get to piggyback off the script, the actors, a huge team of people helping me, the producers, from keeping the technology from getting in the way of the charm. So no matter how advanced filmmaking gets, I think the movies the ones people will enjoy the most are the ones which are able to restrain and keep the story in the forefront. I have a team – these guys you see up here, and about 300 people you can’t see – helping to do that.
On producer Michael Bay’s influence:
Liebesman: This is where a guy like Bay is super helpful because he reacts to things very instinctively. We can show him something, and he’d say, ‘That’s too creepy,’ or ‘That’s too light,’ or ‘That’s not enough.’ I think he was always the gauge. I’d go down a road and get a bunch of designs and I’d bring it back to Mike, and we’d do it together – I remember a particular trip to Miami with the writers [everyone on the panel snickers] – but he helped guide us to where we were. But what I love about the designs we had, what was important to Mike, was that the turtles were all distinct, which was unlike the cartoons or the previous movies – they just had bandanas. From his experience with Transformers, he wanted moms to be able to tell the different characters, and we made it our mission to give each physicalities that would dramatize in a physical way their personalities…essentially Bay helped keep us on that narrow path between what’s too dark and what’s too light.
On the film’s haters:
Megan Fox: Let me tell you something about those people: how much money did Transformers 4 make? Exactly. Those people who complain? They all go to the theater. They’re gonna love it, and if they don’t love it, they can fuck off.
On not sexualizing April O’Neil:
Liebesman: Megan’s obviously incredibly sexy and I don’t think we need to…it was important not to make a huge point out of trying to hide anything. But I don’t think that’s what Megan is about. And when I met Megan and got to know her, what comes across to me is someone who is much smarter than people give her credit for and knows that there’s literally more to her than meets the eye. I think that’s something we wanted to put into April O’Neil. I wasn’t very interested in sexualizing her – that’s just not what was interesting to me. I wasn’t trying to service fans who look at Megan’s Maxim pictures. I was servicing fans who love Ninja Turtles. They’re there to see the Ninja Turtles and April’s our window in…I think she’s sexy as is.
On whether audiences are yearning for goofier comic book heroes:
Liebesman: I think that’s a very timely question for this weekend, because Guardians of the Galaxy, which is that exact thing, is going to do great, and I think we’ll do great next weekend. There’s a definite place for serious superhero movies. I love the Batman films and then more in the middle you have the Iron Man movies. But I do think when you have something like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it is a parody and it takes the piss out of superhero movies. I think what the writers did great and what the producers encouraged – which is awesome, especially when you see it in front of an audience – is it’s just supposed to be funny. That’s what Ninja Turtles are. I always err on the side of serious, but I’m so happy that everyone at this table pulled the movie into the fun zone because it’s such a great ride. Especially when you watch it with an audience. It has no pretenses to be anything else. That’s the charm of Ninja Turtles.
On what iteration of TMNT inspired the writers when working on this screenplay:
Evan Daugherty: I come at it more from, I was six years old when the animated series came out, so I kind of missed the graphic novel. So for me, the animated series and the first few live action films, that’s what the Ninja Turtles are to me. It’s different things to a lot of different people. We were talking about fanboys – which I consider myself one – latching on to whatever their version of Ninja Turtles is and not wanting to let it go, but I tried to infuse a little bit of that energy into the work I did on it.
Josh Applebaum: The original Eastman and Laird, the graphic novel. It was that and the first movie in ’91, those were my touchstones.
Andre Nemec: And I think the inspiration is, the fact it’s a story about brothers. It’s a story about family at the end of the day. That always was a driving principle and something that we really wanted to live by.
On what attracted Megan Fox to the role, and if she was drawn to it because she didn’t have to show her midriff:
Fox: First of all, I don’t mind doing that stuff. I think that’s been a part of being an actress in Hollywood since the beginning, and I don’t feel ashamed or like I can’t be taken seriously while also wearing a tank top. And if you don’t take me seriously when I’m wearing a tank top, that’s your fucking problem. But I was attracted to this because I was a fan as a kid, and I got the opportunity to go in and have a meeting with them…I really campaigned to get this because I was a fan. I was afraid at the same time because you don’t want to ruin something that you loved and be part of its downfall, so of course I was terrified of letting people down. But I had to do it because it was iconic to me as a kid and I feel lucky to have gotten the opportunity.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is in theaters now.
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