S.S. Wilson talks to UK Tremors (12/12/2003)

S.S. Wilson talks to UK Tremors about Tremors 4: The Legend Begins and CGI.
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We talked exclusively to S.S. Wilson, the Director of Tremors 2 and 4 and asked some questions about Tremors 4, CGI and the future of the series.

UK: What do you think of Tremors 4 now you have had chance to sit back and look at it?

SS: I'm hardly an unbiased judge, but I'm very pleased with it. I felt that the entire team on the show pulled together to create a really different take on the series of films.

UK: Could you tell us more about why you chose to set it in the past?
SS: That developed in the following way. When we started Tremors 3, Universal told us that there would be no more Tremors films after that. So we decided to "close the loop" on the life cycle of the Graboid, introducing the AB creatures and explaining that they carry Graboid eggs. As soon as Tremors 3 came out, it was a huge success, and they immediately wanted Tremors 4. But to be true to what we had already done, we couldn't create a new creature, which we knew the fans would expect. So, I jokingly said one day to one of the executives, "We'd have to do something really radical, like set it in the old West and start with new characters who don't know what Graboids are." To my surprise, Universal liked the idea. So that's how Tremors 4 became a prequel.
UK: Was it hard researching the storyline?

SS: The basics were easy to come up with because we knew right away that we'd want to connect the story to the original Tremors. We (that is Brent Maddock, Nancy Roberts and myself) talked with Michael Gross about playing Burt's great Grandfather, and he liked the idea. Then we began inventing new sequence ideas relating to Graboids and 19th century technology. We decided to set it in Perfection at the time of the town's founding. We thought it would be fun to meet the first Changs, ancestors of Walter and Jodi Chang. From there we worked out the story and hired writer Scott Buck to create the screenplay. Scott did extensive research on the West, on mining towns, and on Western period language and did a great job on the script.
UK: What can you tell us about the DVD extras on the disk?

SS: I'm happy to say we have more on this one that we did on T-2 or T-3. We have a great gag reel compiled by editor Harry Miller. We have my original short film from USC film school. We have interviews with cast and crew and some rare behind the scenes footage of miniature FX artists Bob and Dennis Skotak at work.

UK: Do you have any idea if the TV series will be released on DVD, and if the UK or the rest of Europe will ever get chance to see it on TV or DVD?

SS: Sorry to say the SciFi network has been completely unpredictable about what their plans are. At one point they told us they were planning to release DVDs. At another they said they'd changed their minds. With the series now cancelled, we have no contact with them. You'll probably find out before we do what's really going to happen.
UK: Why did you choose not to use CGI in the film? What do you think of the CGI in the past Tremors instalments?
SS: The decision was primarily financial but also partly aesthetic. Tremors 3, was the first film in which we used CGI to create Graboids. While we had excellent people doing the work, we found we did not have the money to keep redoing the shots until we got them really looking perfect. The only negative comment we've ever gotten from fans about effects work was on the Graboids in T-3. Some fans said, "They just don't look quite right." Graboids are particularly difficult because they kick up so much dirt and dust, which are chaotic elements very difficult (costly) to create in CG. When we ran the budget for Tremors 4, our FX expert, Linda Drake determined that we could do more shots with miniatures than we could with CG. That suited us fine, because the Skotaks, our Academy Award winning miniature artists from Tremors 1, were available and wanted to work with us again. That made it a no brainer. Tremors 4 has the most active, aggressive Graboids yet, and they're all done the old fashioned way -- with full scale puppets (from KNB) and tentacles and miniatures. However, we also augmented the set photography with CG elements like bullet hits, gun muzzle flashes, additional dust, and so on. We also used computers to do all our composites (combining miniature footage with shots of our actors). For that sort of work, computers are better, faster and cheaper than old optical film techniques. So overall the film is a blend of old and new technologies.

UK: What's your general opinion of CGI in the movie industry? What do you think of its use in big budget films?
SS: I think it has changed special effects work profoundly. It makes possible things which were simply not possible. It makes doable large scale things which, while physically possible, are just not practical. It literally allows for a new kind of story telling. It demands that one think more broadly about how to tell a story. On the subtler side, it also gives film makers an unprecedented amount of control over the look of a film. Finally, it allows a director sometimes to use shots which otherwise he or she couldn't have. For example, in Tremors 4 there's a shot of some men riding across a bridge. I only got one take with beautiful sky and snow on distant mountains, then clouds rolled in. Just then we found out that one of our riders was in the wrong wardrobe. So he had to change and we had to reshoot in bad weather. During post production, our CG effects team decided to take a crack at changing the color of the wardrobe in the beauty shot. The succeeded in making it look like our actor was in the right outfit, and the shot is in the final picture. Before CG, that wouldn't have been possible.

UK: Is there any chance of MORE Tremors?
SS: I used to say no because Universal always said no. The reality is, it all depends on how well Tremors 4 does -- so get out there and rent it and buy it!

Uk Tremors thanks Mr Wilson for his time. Tremors 4 is out on 2nd January in the US and Canada. A UK release date has not yet been set.

Tremors 4 is distributed by MCA/Universal Home Video, Inc. TM and Copyright 2003 Stampede Entertainment.