The final day of The London Action Festival began with a screening of sci-fi/action classic Predator at Picturehouse Central. Once again, director John McTiernan took to the stage following the film for an extended, outspoken interview/Q&A session during which he discussed the production and his career.

McTiernan told the audience how, with Predator, he was “trying to make a film for a fourteen year old boy that was full of nonsense and looked heroic” yet he was inspired by European cinema, specifically films by Fellini and Bertolucci, as “most mainstream American directors were making action films using just master, medium and close-up shots”.

McTiernan recalled how terrible the original Predator design/suit looked was and how the process of designing and constructing a new one resulted in delays. McTiernan said he wanted to make the Predator look as authentic as possible. In order to achieve this, he recalled testing several special effects, methods and mechanisms including putting a monkey in a suit which didn’t work.

For close up shots they had eight puppeteers controlling the Predator’s face and used several bungee rigs, chords and a crane for jumping scenes. The suit also contained a cooling system that poured cold water down the back of its inhabitant.

An on-set military advisor took the cast for daily hikes so they could get to know each other. The director recalled crawling up slippery hillsides in the mud which he thought was miserable but Schwarzenegger was loving it because he knew it would help the film look genuine.

McTiernan said most big Hollywood stars at the time “didn’t want to go far from their trailers or leave the studio. They were more about just going to dinner, but Arnold isn’t like that.” McTiernan considered Schwarzenegger to be “an extraordinary man in any field” and thought he should be running for president to “save our asses from these crazy people.”

McTiernan doesn’t shy away from speaking his mind. In response to being told how inspiring the Russo Brothers found his films, McTiernan replied: “I don’t really give a shit.”

London Action Fest Day 4He also shocked the audience into silence after shutting down their laughter in response to a relayed belief that we are in the middle of a fascist revolution. How Russia would eventually unite with China to go to war against America and that we should all worry about it. In response to the silence, McTiernan replied: “oh boy I’ve just shut the whole audience up” which lightened the mood again, a little.

The moderator swiftly turned the conversation back to film-making.

McTiernan reflected on his childhood and key moments which got him into cinema. His father was a lawyer and an opera singer. John recalled hanging out backstage at the theatre to watch him perform. He also recalled his mother taking him to the movies a lot during the 1950s and watching films like High and the Mighty at a time when there was no limit to what children could see on the big screen.

John originally wanted to get into theatre but gravitated towards film-making as he considered himself an engineer, and film-making, to John, was an aesthetic pursuit combined with engineering. Despite this viewpoint, McTiernan believed good film-making wasn’t solely about the technical stuff. He went on to say; “Tools are not content. The first few years of talking movies weren’t as good as the last few years of silent film.”

McTiernan hasn’t seen most of his movies (including Predator) for many years: “I can’t watch my movies for a few years after because all I see is the stuff I fucked up”, but he cast his mind back to recollect further on Predator and other productions.

When asked about briefly working with Jean Claude Van Damme during early stages of Predator’s production, when JCVD was down to play the alien, McTiernan recalled how Van Damme took four planes to Mexico to meet him. After trying on the original suit, Van Damme was told he was no longer needed, and, after what McTiernan described as being a “long string of French cursing”, he took Van Damme to dinner, apologised profusely then put him on a plane back to Belgium.

McTiernan also spoke about his hiring of writer/actor Shane Black to play Hawkins in the film, as being something of a shrewd move as he wanted Black to help him write the screenplay. Black had just written Lethal Weapon but refused to work on Predator as a writer so McTiernan hired him as an actor so he could extract ideas from him during production.

London Action Fest Day 4After McTiernan’s Q&A came a panel event called Write Club, during which, screenwriter Jeremy Drysdale (Grand Theft Parsons, In The Line of Duty) and former critical care paramedic turned screenwriter Kat Hall talked about how to write an action script.

Both writers agreed that you had to start by creating a compelling protagonist, and how, by the end of the film we would have to learn something new about them. You need to be emotionally invested in the character to follow them on their journey. Their personality also needs to be reflected in the dialogue. You should be able to put your hand over a character’s name in a screenplay and still know which one is speaking.

The writers then talked about different script writing methods. Pages from the screenplays of The Matrix, John Wick and The Bourne Identity were presented on screen so the audience could look at the different ways to write an action scene.

The writers said there’s no definitive method (Tarantino and Edgar Wright don’t format scripts like they’re supposed to) as long as the style conveys the pace and mood i.e. short bullet-point-like beats work better for action scenes. The writing needs to force both the reader and story forward. Kat and Jeremy also suggested cutting out text that disrupts the pace and capitalising specific words when required.

Kat suggested listening to music while writing and alternating genres depending on what you’re working on.

Kat and Jeremy then went on talk about about how to write a TV pilot and “bible”.

The “Bible” has to be a 50 page document containing the nuts and bolts of the series. Within this you would need to set out the characters, biographies, environment, history and tone. A breakdown of the first season would also have to be written alongside a page setting out plans for a further five seasons.

The pilot should be around 60 pages and introduce/set up key characters, present them in a conflict situation, establish the overarching tone and provide info/exposition in a way that seems effortless.

The writers went on to talk about the “write what you know” platitude and how they considered it hugely reductive. Kat thought writing what you know meant writing about how you specifically relate to the subject

It was mentioned that the phrase was coming up a lot recently as writers are being told they shouldn’t write from the perspective of a different sex, race or from the POV of someone with a disability.

Kat believed it was ok to do so as long as you researched enough to gain insights into people who have had similar experiences to your character.

Jeremy told the audience how essential it was to get the producers excited about your screenplay before they have read it. Make them look forward to reading it!

The importance of getting a reputable agent was also a major factor as “without an agent” it’s impossible.

London Action Fest Day 4Next up came the Jurassic World: Dominion masterclass. Visual effects supervisors Dave Vickery and Pawl Fulker took to the stage to discuss the work they did on Colin Trevorrow’s film.

Dave and Pawl talked about how Trevorrow spent two hours a day with storyboard artists to help realise his vision.

It is the visualisation supervisors job to then imagine what the storyboards will be like on a computer, which leads to the building of virtual sets, and working out if things could be done live in-camera without visual effects. Having on-set knowledge helps determine what can and can’t be done.

Other things, like the weight of a T-Rex also needs to be taken into consideration when creating the dinosaur’s “impact shots” but this info can be drawn from research conducted on previous films.

David and Paul then showed story boards from a cut sequence from Jurassic World where a T-Rex attacks a drive-in cinema. The sequence featured in a promotional prologue released prior to the first trailers and is planned to be reinstated for a future director’s cut.

Another storyboard was presented, this time of a truck jack-knifing to avoid a dinosaur, but this sequence wasn’t filmed as it was considered too expensive.

David and Paul went on to discuss the brilliant Malta set raptor chase sequence which was mostly filmed by Dan Bradley (2nd unit director), and how differently Dan works to Colin due to less planning.

A brief presentation of the TechViz software showed how using AR to insert dinosaurs into live camera feeds helped the VFX team realise how they would look in the final scene.

David and Paul also talked about how they would send photos of Iggy Pop to ILM to use as a reference for the dinosaur design.

The final day of the festival also featured exclusive footage from new action movie School Fight, followed by a Q&A with director Damien Walters, and a screening of Con Air followed by a Q&A with director Simon West.