Roland Emmerich talks filmmaking, tools

Helmer tells Variety film tech confab that he's not high on 3D

Creating digital environments has freed up filmmakers from having to shoot on location or recreate pricey sets in soundstages, but “you always need a very good floor,” advises director Roland Emmerich. “If there isn’t a good floor, don’t do it.”

Emmerich, who is best known for his effects-heavy tentpoles like “Independence Day,” “Godzilla,” “The Day After Tomorrow” and “2012,” surprised the biz when he chose to make the much smaller drama, “Anonymous,” that explores whether William Shakespeare actually penned his stories.

The film is short on explosions and destruction.

“I’m not a person who walks around and says, ‘What else can I destroy?’ ” Emmerich said Monday at Variety’s first annual Film Technology Summit at Hollywood & Highland. “For me as an artist, there was something in the story that spoke to me of a guy that wrote amazing work and couldn’t put his name on it.”

But the director turned to many of the same tools he utilized on his more expensive pics.

In fact, digital technology enabled him to cut the budget on the pic and get Sony to greenlight the film. Emmerich explained how he had initially wanted to make the movie in 2005, filming on location or building lavish sets in a traditional way.

The plug on the project was pulled when it proved too expensive to produce.

Yet re-creating large setpieces like cathedral using greenscreen, enabled Emmerich to tell Sony, “I don’t need $40 million or $50 million but $25 million.”

“When we were making ‘2012’ I had to portray the world but we never left Vancouver,” he said during the Q&A with Variety film editor Josh L. Dickey. “I saw the level of photo-realism that was reached and felt that could bring the budget down.”

“Anonymous” was the first time visual effects helped Emmerich make a movie cheaper, he said.

“That’s a very exciting thing,” he said. “People always said effects would make things cheaper but it never happened. They got more expensive. But now it can make small movies look very expensive.”

Large effects setpieces are now “just a matter of money,” he said. “You can do anything you want but it all comes down to money and whether its worth it.”

“Anonymous” still has 400 visual effects shots, the same as “Day After Tomorrow,” in which the world is frozen over.

Emmerich still isn’t a fan of 3D and feels it especially hurts the family film market, which makes ticket prices too expensive.

“I personally don’t like 3D,” he said. “There are too many movies done in 3D. I always go into a meeting and hope they don’t ask me to make the movie in 3D.”

He admits there are some films, like “Avatar” or “Fantastic Voyage” that lend themselves to 3D, given the worlds they create. Otherwise, “it doesn’t add anything.” Emmerich also said “2012” might have worked in 3D, but “we already had a high budget and it would have become more expensive.”

Emmerich isn’t worried about the backlash he might get from Shakespeare fans.

“With this movie, I only wanted to please myself,” he said. “I wanted to do what I wanted to see. I went a little bit out there and said, ‘Look, literary establishment, stop telling lies.’ There was an incredible resistance to the film which I completely understand, but I did it anyway.”

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