Days before “Piranha 3-D” kicked off its shoot in the spring-break haven of Lake Havasu City, Arizona, last May, producer Mark Canton told MTV News that with the “advent of 3-D, we thought we could make the ultimate ‘Jaws’ for this generation.”
A month later, during a visit to the sun-drenched set , we got to see exactly what Canton was talking about: blood, boobs, more blood and even more boobs — all presented via the glories of 3-D technology.
Now we’re getting close to the time when the rest of the world will catch a glimpse of this gory romp — part horror flick, part ’80s-style risqué comedy — about carefree spring breakers suddenly blitzed by swarms of prehistoric fish. In advance of the movie’s August 27 release — and as MTV News continues its week of 3-D film coverage — “Piranha” director Alexandre Aja called us up to chat about the perils of converting his film to 3-D rather than shooting with 3-D cameras, breaking records for the most blood ever spilled in a film, and why he insists on having 3-D nudity onscreen.
MTV: Was “Piranha” always planned as a 3-D film?
Alexandre Aja: I read the first draft of the script five years ago, and I really had a very strong connection to the concept of spring break and the attack of prehistoric piranhas. It was the perfect guilty-pleasure movie. Unfortunately, I had some other commitment and I couldn’t do it, and then the movie came back to me three years ago, and I was able to rewrite it. At that time, I was reading up about the 3-D revolution that was to come, and I was very excited. When I was doing “High Tension” or “The Hills Have Eyes,” I always tried to create the best emotion possible, where the audience isn’t just watching the movie, but they live the experience and forget they were in the screening room and just go with the character through the nightmare. But if you do something like “The Hills Have Eyes” in 3-D, it’s not going to be an enjoyable experience.
MTV: Seems like that would be a little unpleasant.
Aja: But I was daydreaming about 3-D all the time, and I thought, ” ‘Piranha’ is the perfect story.” Because yes, it’s super gory; yes, it’s super scary; but it’s also super fun. So I went back to the studio, and I talked to [Weinstein Company co-founder] Bob Weinstein. It took the time of a conversation of two minutes, and it was so obvious that we all agreed. We decided to go 3-D three years ago. It was kind of obvious that a revolution was coming with “Avatar.” “Avatar” is a masterpiece and a really big turning point for the audience to discover the new way of experiencing a movie. “Piranha” is going to be the next step for them, where they can enjoy the 3-D in an even more gimmicky and over-the-top way, where much more things are going to come out of the screen. I understand why James Cameron in “Avatar” didn’t want to make the 3-D gimmicky, and he was right. But we are making a piranha-attacking-spring-break movie, so we are going to go for the huge on-the-screen effects and fish attacking the audience.
MTV: Did you give any thought to shooting with 3-D cameras instead of doing a post-production conversion?
Aja: We were going to shoot with the camera system Cameron used, and we found out that, of course, we don’t have the same budget as an “Avatar” or as much time. And shooting on the water with a real 3-D camera brings some very big restrictions in terms of dealing with reflections. But I was very, very skeptical about the 3-D conversion, because it felt so unnatural to create 3-D when it’s flat at the beginning. And I saw a lot of demo reels, like some of the James Cameron “Titanic” conversion scenes, some of “Star Wars,” and 20 minutes of Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” fully converted into 3-D, and that was simply the best 3-D I’ve ever seen. Period.
MTV: And so then you were sold.
Aja: Yeah, I was sold. And in addition to that, because all of our piranha are CG, they are all real 3-D in the computer. Our movie is going to be completely converted, but a big chunk of it will be real 3-D as well.
MTV: Is there one scene in particular that you’re really happy with the 3-D, something you think fans should be particularly excited about?
Aja: I think everything involving the fish is going to be fantastic. The biggest thing for the fans is going to be the big spring-break wet T-shirt contest, where we have thousands of spring-break groups on the water, and the party has its climax when the piranhas come and start attacking everyone. It’s almost 25 minutes of a huge massacre, and it’s really insane. I think we broke all the records in the manner of blood used. I don’t remember the exact number, but we passed “Kill Bill.” You’ve never seen something like that before. Then there’s a more specific 3-D area, where at one point there’s a boat that’s sinking and they are rescued by another boat, and they cannot exit because there are a lot of rocks, and they are pulling a rope in between the two boats — like a ski rope — and they have to cross over, and the piranha are jumping, trying to get them. It’s a very, very big 3-D moment.
MTV: When we visited the “Piranha” set, the big debate was, “Are you setting a record for most blood in a movie or most boobs in a movie?” And the cast seemed to be split.
Aja: I think we broke both records. I want to know exactly how many different girls’ boobs are in the movie. I think it’s a lot. I think blood-wise, I have to get the final number, but we are beyond anything you can even imagine.
MTV: I have to ask the very important question: Are there going to be 3-D boobs in “Piranha 3-D”?
Aja: Of course! Of course. There’s going to be 3-D double-D boobs! When I’m making a movie, I always think about the movie I would love to see. And from the beginning, this movie has been like, “I would have loved to have watched this movie when I was like 15, 16, 17 and above.” It’s kind of a cult guilty pleasure, like “Fast Times,” “Gremlins,” “Breakfast Club.”
MTV: Have you started the 3-D conversion yet?
Aja: Yes. Knowing that we would go with that technology from the beginning, we were going back and forth on set during the whole process of shooting. Converting the movie in a good way can take a year.
MTV: That’s an interesting point, because “Clash of the Titans” is getting grief because people are skeptical of whether you can do the conversion process in a compressed amount of time.
Aja: I’m very curious. I’m spending the last year converting the movie in 3-D, and I can’t wait to see what they did in three months.
MTV: Do you think after “Avatar” that 3-D is here to stay, or do you think it’s just another fad?
Aja: You know, 3-D tried to break through for so long, and it never really happened. I have the feeling that when videogames, which are already on their way, are going to get into 3-D, it’s going to create some kind of revolution. And that will cause the movie industry to make the turn and become completely 3-D. So far it’s great, because we’re still at the beginning of developing that technology. And there’s a lot of debate between the real 3-D and the conversion, but both technologies are also getting better and better. I imagine in a few years from now, you’ll be able to go see a movie without glasses, and it will be 3-D.
MTV: Are you saying, like Cameron did, “I’m on the 3-D bandwagon. I’m only going to make movies in 3-D from now on”?
Aja: I think storytelling is storytelling, and some stories need to exist no matter what, if it’s in 2-D or 3-D. 3-D is a very expensive process right now, if you’re shooting real 3-D or you convert them. Not every production can afford it, so it’s really about the story. If I had the opportunity of getting my movie in 3-D in the theater, yes, I will definitely go for that.
Do not adjust your glasses! It’s 3-D week at MTV News. All week long, we’re looking at the biggest and boldest upcoming movies set to reach out and grab you with the wonders of 3-D technology. We’ve got exclusive sneak peeks at “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” “Tron Legacy,” “Clash of the Titans” and many more.
Check out everything we’ve got on “Piranha 3-D.”
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