Alexandre Aja Interview on Piranha 3D

Alexandre Aja Interview on Piranha 3D
Alexandre Aja says this was one fish he just couldn't throw back.
Updated: 08-19-2010


Interview by Staci Layne Wilson
STACI LAYNE WILSON: I just almost had a MANIAC/HIGH TENSION moment. I went into the rest room, and when I walked in I saw in the far stall these really big tennis shoes. Someone was standing in the stall really weird, not moving. I walked in and thought, “What’s going on here?” And then I thought to myself, “Oh, never mind.” Then I said, “No, I’m leaving this room. Something’s wrong here.” So, it’s kind of like that natural instinct of fear. And I’m wondering what you might’ve learned about that in the water? What kind of techniques do you use to scare people that’s primal for a movie set in water.
ALEX AJA: You know, I was really wondering writing PIRANHA, can you really reinvent the fear the way JAWS did for the water. And JAWS is like here. (he raises his hand to emphasize his point) It’s the movie you can still watch and it’s still is amazing. A masterpiece, it really is. So, I tried with PIRANHA to be more on the GREMLINS aspect of it. The little creatures coming and taking pieces of you. I think what’s scary with the piranha, it’s not like the shark taking huge pieces of you and just rip you in two. It’s about hundreds of fish, having a little bite of flesh. And the most like scary picture that you can find online about piranha are the piranha bites because it’s like very nasty. It’s like that size and taking a really a good chunk of flesh, and you imagine how painful.
STACI: And just severs little veins and capillaries. Ouch.
AJA: They have very sharp teeth. It’s really about them gnawing on you, and the sound they make when they are eating. That’s what I’ve been lumping in the movie. It’s also about being in the water partying, listening to music. And the piranha are just swimming between your legs that you don’t feel, and they don’t attack. They’re not tasting you, like the shark is tasting you. They just wait, and it’s a very strange thing. I was shooting real piranha in another scene that was cut from the movie and I wanted to create like a feeding frenzy. So we put some meat into the tank, and I expecting them to arggh... [Aja growls]
STACI: Yeah, yeah. That’s what you always see on those nature shows, right?
AJA: They swim, they swim around and at one point one of them is going to take a bite. And from the moment one takes a bite, all of them get crazy, CRAZY and attack.
STACI: Is it like a universal mind, where they all kind of share the same thought?
AJA: I think it’s somehow related to the blood. It wasn’t a piece of meat. It was a fish on a hook, like a goldfish. It’s really the first bite that drew the blood, and the blood draws the pack. And we have that line that Christopher Lloyd says in the movie and it’s exactly the case. And I think it is something very random about why they choose this specific girl in the inner-tube to start the massacre and why there so many other kids. But then when one starts and everyone and they are so crazy that sometimes they even eat themselves. It’s just like a feeding frenzy. The blood is driving them completely insane.
Is there any other kind of animal that does that? That you are aware of. No, I’m sure there is. But really what I find interesting is how they stay amongst their prey so long, just waiting for that specific individual one that’s going to start the process.
STACI: With this film, you’re actually treading in new territory in two ways. I don’t really think you’ve done a creature/animal movie, and also when we think of you, we don’t think of comedy. So, what was that like to tackle that stuff all at once?
AJA: I’ve always been attracted by that side of horror and comedy. I’m a huge fan of EVIL DEAD, of course and a huge fan of DEAD ALIVE, also called BRAIN DEAD.
STACI: Yeah, the Peter Jackson film.
AJA: I have always been a fan of that. When I arrived after HIGH TENSION, we were talking about a project called DARK FIELD, which was some kind of zombie/scarecrow, very fun popcorn movie. And at the same time, I received the first draft of PIRANHA. We talking about six years ago, and I knew I wanted to do that kind of fun horror movie. But first, after HIGH TENSION, I wanted to do a survival movie, like THE HILLS HAVE EYES, and then I went to the other side of the genre into the supernatural with MIRRORS. But when I was producing P2, they came back to me and said, “Are you still interested in PIRANHA?” It’s that kind of guilty pleasure memory of that script was so fun. I want to see the Spring Break beginning attack. I want to see those thousands of kids getting ripped apart in the lake. And, you know, I couldn’t help it. We were writing for like two years, developing so many deaths. Ultimately just a few of them make into the movie; we had so much more. It would’ve been a 4 hour movie of people getting killed in different ways. That would’ve been a little bit too much.
STACI: So, what did some of the actors have to say when they read the script and go, “Oooh, I get to die like this?” Were they excited by their death scenes?
AJA: Yeah, but they were really excited by their characters. We developed the script in such a way that we made every character in the movie very interesting. I mean, you’ll see the character of Jerry O’Connell as the human piranha - very sleazy character that tries to get a hold of under-aged girls and pulls them with his camera. And the way he’s going to be attacked and the way he dies is so over-the-top. You, know, it’s a very cool character. The same for all of them. We tried to make a movie, not only with one lead. At least, eight lead characters with a different story line, and they are just facing a disastrous situation. It’s a disaster movie. It’s a classic movie story. It is like a disaster movie.
STACI: Yeah, it feels like THE TOWERING INFERNO, or THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE or something like that, where it’s much more like a 70’s kind of feel than a modern day.
AJA: Exactly. It’s main of that kind of disaster movie and 80’s guilty pleasure movie, and it’s an interesting tone. That was in the original script, and we just tried to underline...
STACI: Personally, what I like about you as a director is your visual sense; you use so much depth and texture that they feel like they are already 3D. So, what made you decide that “Oh, I’m going to do 3D also"?
AJA: No. We decided to make the movie 3D (I think) 3 years ago. When we were writing, and we were thinking AVATAR is going to be so... SO exciting. But imagine AVATAR - a real all movie in 3D - it was the turning point, where we knew it would be the ultimate way of making a movie.
STACI: I’m also wondering in regard to the visuals, how you decided and where did you decided to draw the line between KNB’s amazing practical effects and the CGI.
AJA: This specific movie was very interesting for them, because you have to create a conjunction with the bites and the piranha. Every CG bites of the piranha are real. So, one of the best techniques I think we had - when you try to paint the bites on someone, it always look really fake. But if your already have the bites right here and just paint it out at the beginning until the piranha comes, then you reveal it, it works in an amazing way. Because it feels real after, because you don’t know there is a bite. You don’t see it’s been cut. It’s a very interesting thing we used a lot in the movie. So the bites were already on the people. We just reveal them with the piranha. And it’s a very nice combination of CG and KNB work.
STACI: Can you talk a little bit about working with Greg and what he brings specifically to a project. Because he’s pretty much the gold standard for special FX. Although Almost Human is doing some really good work now too. But KNB is still number one. What is it do you think keeps them there?
AJA: It’s the spirit. Greg is such an amazing guy. He has such great ideas. You know, you go to see him and you say, “This is what I would like to see.” Even if its impossible, he will find a way to make it happen. We share the same spirit; the same love for so many movies. It’s really like something that we have together, like the same language. And that’s why I think so many filmmakers are only working with him. Because he does “photo-real”. He can create prosthetics that looks absolutely amazing. I can’t imagine working without him.
STACI: I noticed in the sizzle reel we saw at Comic Con, which was a lot of great death scenes and stuff, that some of the people look like they survived the bites, and there was some horrific kind of drama to it as well. Where is the tonal balance in the film overall. Because I feel that we just saw the crazy bits.
AJA: I had to tone down the reel, because the studio was freaking out that we were going to show too much... It’s not depressing the audience. It’s always quite fun. But there is a point where first you have fun by seeing that kind of Spring Break celebration being attacked. But then it was more important to me - even more than Greg’s work and everything - to have that mass of Spring Breakers to be able to play that. And I got on set and said in prep, “Guys, we need to cast the extras.” And they were like, “Are you crazy, to bring together 3000 people?” I said, “Yes, we have to.” It’s going to take a lot of time. But we have to put them on tape, because cannot go with the massacre scene and have people playing stupid. (Mock exaggerated screaming) I want them to be realistic. What is the most scary? A guy taking a bullet and screaming like a pig, or the guy that can really scream. And his scream would be more painful than any blood that is coming out, because it is believable? So, we put everyone on tape in groups of people, like the one that can die and the one that can scream, and the one that can cry. One that can dance, one that can party and the one that plays drunk. Because Spring Break usually expresses all the parties you get when you arrive. We color-coded all the ones that die, so it was very easy for the assistant to re-group. So, we have a death scene here, so let’s bring all the people that can die. It was a good way of doing it. I’m very happy. And I think Greg Nicotero and his team and all the prosthetics are very impressive. But if that had been applied to bad actors and bad extras, it would never work.
STACI: Yeah, you have to have it all together. So, are you happy with how it’s turned out?
AJA: I am. I had to see the movie - and I don’t know - 200 times. It’s the first time that I still have fun looking at [one of my movies over and over]. Usually I get so, “Okay, okay, okay”, and here I like always smile. I had fun.
Don't forget to check out's exclusive on-camera interviews with the PIRANHA 3D cast, and also our review of the movie.
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