ARI NOVAK INTERVIEW
Interview conducted by Steven Wood
When you think of cowboys, you normally don't think of dinosaurs in the same breath. But Ari Novak mashed the two together like peanut butter and chocolate in his latest film Cowboys vs Dinosaurs. We got a chance to talk with the director about what it was like making the film, working with stars Eric Roberts and Vernon Wells, his future projects, and more.
Steven Wood: What was the motivation to make something along the lines of B-movie sci-fi? Do you have any influences within that genre?
Ari Novak: Yes, one of the most memorable experiences I had as a youth was going to see Starship Troopers. My friend was projectionist at our local movie theater and called me up on a Thursday afternoon and frantically said, "You have to get down to the movie theater right now! There's a movie that's opening tomorrow that you have to see." That night, he set up a private screening for me and another friend and we watched Starship Troopers all alone in this movie theater. It was so much fun and one of the most memorable movie watching experiences I had. It made a deep impact on me and I thought to myself, "I want to make movies like this, I want to give audiences this kind of fun experience someday."
SW: How was it working with Eric Roberts and Vernon Wells?
AN: Working with Eric and Vernon was very different and yet both were really great to work with. Vernon had worked in mines and on trucks in Australia and brought a unique connection to his character. He has the unique command of his eyes, although his voice is so captivating. I believe his eyes do so much more communicating than anything else. It was an honor to direct Vernon.
Eric gave so much in his performance and I'm so grateful to him for doing this film. Eric does a lot of small movies as well as a lot of big films too. Sadly, I think Eric gets punished critically for doing small films, which is a shame because as an independent filmmaker, there's not a lot of actors as talented as Eric that are willing to work on small films. I think it's too easy to forget how brilliant of an actor Eric is. When Eric showed up, he came with so many ideas, not just things to do, but who his character is, and how he could portray this person. There is a somewhat infamous puking scene that he has in Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs and much of that action was his idea. He had told me that he learned how to puke "the right way" in the theater and wanted to bring some "fuck you Sothern" to this jail scene. I loved it. It was one of the great honors of my career to work with Eric Roberts.
SW: Both Roberts and Wells have had their share of tough guy roles. Between me and you, who would win in a fight?
AN: That's such a tough one! Mad Max villain vs. Batman villain, it would be such a bloody match but…I have to go with Vernon he is a pretty big guy and has the Australian outback is his training.
SW: Montana is a beautiful place, was there any location there that you wanted to shoot but didn't get the chance?
AN: Yes, filming in Montana was amazing. The Montana film commission is probably one of the best film offices I've worked with in the world! Danny Staggs, the Montana film Commissioner, is really an amazing guy and true advocate for independent filmmakers and Montanans. I loved making Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs in Montana so much that I actually shot my next picture here too. A location that I would love to film in is Glacier National Park, but at the same time I would hate to take a film crew into Glacier National Park. [Laughs]
SW: IMDB has you credited for directing the Jackie Robinson documentary Crossing White Lines. How different is it shooting a documentary and a feature film? Anything from that experience carry over to this?
AN: Crossing White Lines was one of my first films, but I draw from that experience quite a bit in my everyday work. Telling a documentary story or telling a fictional story does have similarities in that you need to connect with the audiences emotions and engage people in a meaningful way regardless if you were desegregated baseball or blowing up the T. Rex.
SW: I enjoyed Rib Hills' performance in Cowboys vs Dinosaurs, and IMDB shows him as a voice actor in your next film, Timber The Treasure Dog. Do you have any plans on casting him for a lead role in the future?
AN: Rib Hillis is such a great guy and good actor, he is quickly becoming my Robert DeNiro and I'm perhaps his low budget Martin Scorsese, but truth be told, I would love to continue working with Rib. He's a total pro and makes every day on set a blast. We hang out in Hollywood whenever I'm in town, and he has the nickname Rib "No limit" Hillis. If you ever see him out on the town, you'll know why.
SW: Do you have any stories to share that happened off-camera during filming?
AN: There are quite a few crazy stories that came out of Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs. One of my favorites is when our hero rides his horse into the bar to save his friends from a pack of raptors. When we rehearsed the scene, the horse trainer rode "Hobbs" our horse into the bar to see how / what he would do, and it was fine. But when we went to shoot the scene with Rib on the horse, Hobbs took two steps into the bar and then said, "No way." Luckily our first setup was a wide shot, so I radioed for Anthony Fankhauser, our producer and writer, to come to set. Anthony, who's done something like 50 of these sci-fi movies, is really great guy and he's also really big guy, so and I shot all the close-ups with the actors riding Anthony's shoulders like a horse. If you watch the scene you'll never know, but it was really fun day on set watching all the actors ride Anthony around like a horse.
SW: Any plans for a sequel?
SW: If you had an unlimited budget, who would you cast as the leads in your next film?
AN: Daniel Day Lewis, Natalie Portman and Rib Hillis.
SW: Lastly, would you kindly give a piece of advice to any up-and-coming filmmakers?
AN: I'm very fortunate in my career. I get to direct movies for a living, but I don't think I would've had this opportunity if I hadn't got experience in so many different parts of the film business. When I was in college and in my early 20s, I drove production trucks in New York City. After college, I worked as an entertainment agent and represented over 100 cinematographers and below-the-line artists. I've always loved VFX, so I then worked as a visual effects supervisor on major commercials and then on TV and feature films, which led me back to the director's chair. Every day at work as a director, I draw in these very different experiences I had leading up to my directing career. These experiences color my perspective and help my ability to work with artists who come from very different backgrounds and have very different jobs to make the best possible film. I would say to up-and-coming filmmakers get as much experience as you can in as many different areas of film as you can and find the thing you love the most, that's what you're going to be great at. No matter what, if you want to succeed, don't give up. It's going to be way harder than you think, but you can do it. Don't give up, ever.
HorrorTalk would like to thank Ari Novak for his time today. Be sure to check out Cowboys vs Dinosaurs!
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