A Conversation With Battle Los Angeles Director Jonathan Liebesman

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Battle los Angeles, the gritty war sci-fi drama, directed by Jonathan Liebesman has captured audiences throughout the world with its realistic raw portrayal of a nation, a world, on the brink of annihilation.

Nearing the 200million mark worldwide, the war drama starring Aaron Eckhardt, Michele Rodriguez, Michael Pena, Ramon Rodriguez and Bridget Moynahan, has continued to gain ground since it exploded into the box office three weeks ago.

Having the opportunity to speak with Battle Los Angeles Director, Jonathan Liebesman during the film’s press junket, held at the Santa Monica Casa Del Mar near the site of the original Battle over Los Angeles, I found him charming, warm, and friendly. He's a fellow NYU alum and we spoke on the film, the ups and downs of the creative life, and the future.

 

Janet Walker: So Jonathan, Great movie. I enjoyed it.

Jonathan Liebesman: Thank you Janet.

Janet Walker:  I saw it at SONY about a month ago . .

Jonathan Liebesman: Oh you did.

Janet Walker:  Yes and then I saw it again last night and still enjoyed it. So two times around and it is still a good movie. 

Jonathan Liebesman: Thanks, Janet, I really appreciate that.

 

Janet Walker: We talked a little bit this morning about how you filmed it in documentary style when I first describe it was more like a staccato movement. So tell me why you chose that style?

Jonathan Liebesman: Well, I think one of the main inspirations of the movie is embedded war footage and you know, a lot of the stuff you see on You Tube from Iraq and Afghanistan as well, that was kind of the start I drew from it kind of informed a lot of the way the movie was shot.

 

Janet Walker: I remember you saying “You fought like hell to get the movie.” Describe what that process was like? 

Jonathan Liebesman: I mean, you know anyone who’s ever tried to get a job in their life knows what it’s like to go in for an interview and it’s a job you really want you’ll do anything and if you have to get a job in this economy it’s the same for a film director or anything. So, the project and are you saying what’s it like?  I went and I shot stuff and I worked hard I put CGI effects in shots and learned how to do that with software and brought it to the studio and there were four other guys in the running and so therefore I went and did more and thought, ‘Oh, what would that look like in Santa Monica?’ Go to Santa Monica, shoot shots there, and put things in shots there and then ‘What about downtown?’ Go to downtown do the same there.

 

So I was running around just doing everything it took. I remember I was editing an independent film I had just done and I’d go back maybe 8:00 or 9:00PM somewhere in the evening and then I’d start working on my presentation for Battle Los Angeles until I would fall asleep.  So the thing is with just really about what I could do because it felt like my shot to do something that I really wanted to do.

 

I remember when I got the movie, I couldn’t believe I got the movie it was kind of like, when you get something, I can’t believe they gave it to me. It’s like you’ve have those situation where things don’t work out?

Janet Walker: Yes.

Jonathan Liebesman: Well this was one where somehow and I don’t know why it was working out. Where everything I did I would visualize they’re going to love this, I going to go in and they’re going to love this and they’re going to call their boss and that guy will like it to and stuff like that would happen and I’ve been on the other side a lot before where I would always be the guy that was losing out. It felt like, what’s that saying, ‘Life is opportunity; and hard work and  . .

 

Janet Walker: It sounds like you weren’t really on the short list for the film?

Jonathan Liebesman: I was if it were a thousand names long.

 

Janet Walker: Tell me a little bit about yourself. How did you get started; you’re a filmmaker so how’d you get started?

Jonathan Liebesman: I went to NYU Film School, South African Film School and then NYU Film School.  I did a short film there, got an agent, did a couple of horror movies, sort of went to Director Jail for a moment, did an independent film; got Battle Los Angeles.

 

Janet Walker: Wow. That’s great.

Jonathan Liebesman: Yes. I’ve been all over the map making my way here.

 

Janet Walker: So did you come up with the idea of Boot camp?

Jonathan Liebesman: No Boot Camp’s been used on SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, they sent actors to Boot Camp on Black Hawk Down, it was a common thing on movies that I’ve liked. I wanted to try and be at that same level and so we got as tech advisor, Sgt. Major Jim Deever and done these Boot Camps before with Clint Eastwood on Flags of Our Fathers and Sands of Iwo Jima and so we did the same thing with our actors. And it was great because I remember the first shot we did they had to run out of a bus onto the freeway and I thought, ‘Oh shit, they look like Marines.’ And that’s what Marines would do. Oh, cool and it made it worth it.

 

Janet Walker: Ramon said you got him in and the schedule was changed and he was going to die today.

Jonathan Liebesman: That’s right the scheduled change and I said, ‘You’re going to die today, Ramon.’

 

Janet Walker: Describe that he said it was a difficult process. But you tell me how you saw it.

Jonathan Liebesman: I don’t know. I probably saw it completely different. I was like, ‘Shit, Ramon the schedule just changed and we have to kill you today.

Janet Walker: Oh wow.

Jonathan Liebesman: This is some genius trick by the director to unnerve me and make my performance amazing. Or it was some dumb stupid idea. It was probably a logistical thing but he . . . I loved working with Ramon. It was a really good vibe. Aaron was super dedicated as a professional actor just amazing to watch.

 

Janet Walker: What were the challenges that you encountered other then getting the film?

Jonathan Liebesman: I think a big one is, you’re dealing with fourteen principal actors in every scene. Challenges asking the tech advisor what these marines would be doing. So you can play a scene and everyone has something to do and it doesn’t look like a mess. Logistically, planning out those scenes was time consuming on the day and then having to shoot them out.

 

Janet Walker: How about when you edited in all the Aliens?

Jonathan Liebesman:  You know what’s interesting I saw that more as an opportunity. What I mean by that is I could take footage that I had shot, almost like ground footage, and add things into it that would fit into what was there and make things up. You know we did have marines dressed up in these tracking marker suits and they would run around so their actions in the camera would have somewhere to go and the animator could refer to their movement.  But the most fun, I think is taking the footage in Post that isn’t meant to be used for anything. Like there’s a lot of footage I use that with a camera bounces after a take and that’s the part I would use and like Aliens up on a roof. And it was like, ‘Oh, shit’ and that for me was those most independent part of it. I love the Special effects part of things. It was a hell of a lot of fun taking normal looking footage and changing it and being amazed at movie magic. I loved it. I’m like obsessed with it even now. I’m still sending shots to marketing that I’ll do. I’ll finish working on Clash [of the titians 2], I don’t know like 9:00 at night, and once or twice a week I’ll do a shot at night or footage on the hard drive in LA and send them the shots in marketing. I can’t get enough of the whole world of Alien invasion in the normal urban area. It’s just cool.

 

Janet Walker: Were the Aliens CGI or did you us character?

Jonathan Liebesman:  No, it’s CGI but it’s based on a person’s performance within a frame. On the freeway, for example, when they are shooting at the Aliens those are all REP people who have been painted over by the Alien.

 

Janet Walker: The people wore the tracking suits?

Jonathan Liebesman:  Correct. And the animators would look at that and put a CGI creature and match the animation.

 

Janet Walker: Okay.

Jonathan Liebesman: So they had tactics and stuff and that was very important to me were called Alien Reference Performers or ARP and they act as performers.

 

Janet Walker: So at the end. When there was this massive piece of metal, the mother ship.

Jonathan Leibesman: That was designed by Ty Ellington and Paul Jared. That’s fake.  We purposely tried to use textures which in my opinion I think are rendered most realistic. We were trying to get people to say, ‘Wow that looks very fucking real.’  So were using steel textures. I find that CGI looks the best in daylight. So I think, specula hits, like if you look at this chair you see hitting in the highlights you see so often trying to confuse your mind.

 

Janet Walker: So you said this morning that you weren’t sure if they talked about a Battle Los Angeles II.

Jonathan Liebesman:  I think you have to see if people want to see it; to see if the movie opens.

 

Janet Walker:  Have you been, the movie is going to open. ..  have you been in script talks?

Jonathan Liebesman:  The movie is going to open. The audience needs to have a genuine response and I’m sure SONY feels the same. They don’t want to spend money on things they don’t want to see. You know how it is things are it looks like they’ll open and they kind of do and then it dies out and you kind of have to let it live a little for a bit and then go if people want to see another. I have a lot of ideas where I would like to take things. But it just it has to perform.

 

With the global box office speaking volumes clearly the sequel to Battle Los Angeles, may just be a phone call away. 

For more information on Battle Los Angeles: www.battlela.com

 

 

 

 

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