Director Jon Turteltaub chats to movies.ie about the highly anticipated sequel
Nicholas Cage doesn’t do sequels. He proudly tells journalists gathered for the ‘National Treasure : Book Of Secrets’ press conference in London that this is his first time revisiting the same character. The first ‘National Treasure’ film about a secret treasure hidden on the back of the Declaration of Independence was surprise success, taking an enormous $347.5 million worldwide. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Jon Turteltaub worked hard to make sure that the follow-up was not a conventional sequel. They both wanted something that could be seen independently of what came before it. Their gamble paid off, ‘National Treasure : Book Of Secrets’ is already a massive hit in America, where it went straight to the top of the box office. It’s already grossed over $200 million in half the time it took the first film. Movies Plus spoke to director Jon Turteltaub to find out more about the first blockbuster of 2008.
Q: How did you originally get involved in the project? Were you there from day one?
A: Not day one, but I was there from day two. On day one a friend of mine, who was running marketing at Disney had an idea for a movie, a rough idea about someone stealing the declaration of Independence and that was the basic concept. So we developed it and finished about 80% of the screenplay. Then I approached Jerry (Bruckheimer) and asked him to be my partner because I’d never made a movie this size. He looked at our script and tossed out 30% of it, leaving us with 50% of a script and it went from there. Without Jerry’s involvement it never would have gone anywhere.
Q: How many conspiracy theories did you have to wade through when planning the story?
A: What’s odd is that people see the film as having much more fantasy than it actually does. There’s an audacity to the main character Ben Gates, it’s not the most wise thing to kidnap the president but he’s not using an invisible ray gun or flying through walls. It’s why we do so much research about the history because we want to get as much story from the real world as we can because history is going to give us many more interesting things than we can think of ourselves. One of the things we really didn’t get into was the KGC – ‘The Knights Of The Golden Circle’. Its a fascinating conspiracy about a secret organisation whose main plan was to acquire Mexico, turn it into a slave state and annex it into the southern part of the United States. That’s where they were connecting all the gold and ancient American civilisations were using that to finance what they were doing, the later became the Ku Klux Klan in a lot of ways. It took so much explaining so we could only touch on this in the movie.
Q: Did you have many historians working on the movie to check historical facts?
A: We always had access to experts who would call people up. We’d call and say, ‘look, we know this fact and this fact, is there something you can find to connect these two’, so we’d have the historian do the creative work to give us a plausible way of doing things. That comes out of Bruckheimer’s desire to tie all the elements together in his movies. Like when we kidnapped the president or stole the Declaration Of Independence, we spoke to security experts and convicted thieves to find out the technology they would use if they had actually pulled this off. Audiences know when you’re really full of S**t. We try to keep these movies as real as we can. Nicholas Cage is not James Bond, we don’t invent technology that doesn’t exist, we don’t say something is historical fact if its just theory. We stick close to the truth and that’s why the movies do well. The movie was written by several writers and Wikipedia.
Q: When researching did you stumble across any evidence that a President’s book or ‘Book Of Secrets’ could actually exists?
A: It’s talked about as a true urban ledged, we didn’t uncover any truth that it exists though. My belief is that there is an aural handing down. There has to be a way for presidents to pass down secrets to each other. Every nation has its secrets and the leader of that nation has access to it. We all feel that there are keepers of the knowledge, maybe its in book form, its hard to say.
Q: Do you think there are school teachers across the world thanking you for making history more interesting?
A: They already have! I’ve gotten so many nice letters and comments from school teachers who showed the movie to their students. They appreciate that its spurned an interest by showing that the things they teach exist outside of school too. They even found that the students that studied these things in school enjoyed the movie a lot more. I want people to go visit these sites that they see in the movie, I want to increase the attendance at national landmarks. Also, with any hope, the more people that go, the more they’ll learn about native American history. It’d be great to get tourists from other countries to realise that there is more to the United States than the Hollywood Sign, the Golden Gate Bridge and New York, Oh and Disney Land too.
Q: You shot at some impressive locations like The White House and Buckingham Palace, were they difficult to set up?
A: Oh yeah, it was tough. You know, the outside of the White House was shockingly easy. But the logistics of where we could and couldn’t stand were complicated. We couldn’t stand right next to the fence, but we could stand 20 feet from the fence, but not 100 feet from the fence, it was crazy. This is because three different agencies have different jurisdiction over different pieces of cement. The street was the city of Washington, the side-walk was homeland security, and the fence was secret service. For the library of congress we had FIVE different bureaucracies making things even more complicated. At Buckingham Palace we only had to talk to one person, who said ‘no’. Which is easy, because once you’re told no that’s the end of it.
Q: One of the biggest action sequences was a high-speed car chase set in London involving a truck carrying kegs of beer, how difficult was this scene to set up?
A: It took weeks, partially because we could only shoot for a certain number of hours on any given day. So we had to come back every Sunday for about a month, when we would do a little piece of it, then stop for a week. Mixed in with that is safety, it’s much more difficult to shoot a car chase in London than in LA due to street sizes and old buildings. The only unbelievable thing in our car chase is that anyone could drive their way around London traffic so fast.
Q: Would you consider bringing a National Treasure sequel on a hunt to Ireland?
A: I’d LOVE to go to Ireland.. We could be searching for so many things. We could search for Bono’s bank account. *laughs* Ireland has such a great history, it’s hard to believe anything is still there, that it hasn’t been pillaged. What’s great about ‘National Treasure’ is that it doesn’t have to be an actual treasure. The fact that Ireland has such an ancient and mysterious history is so appealing.