Interview with STEPHEN SUMMERS
By Scott Michael Bosco
NOTE: This interview was originally conducted on 9/8/99. When Stephen and I spoke on the phone he was in his Universal office writing the sequel, THE MUMMY RETURNS
SMB - How did you get from DEEP RISING to THE MUMMY?
SS - I had always wanted to do THE MUMMY, I had wanted to it for years but every time I checked into it they had a new director, new writer on board. When I was about half way through the production of DEEP RISING I read in the trades one day that it had fallen apart once again. So at that time new people had taken over at UNIVERSAL and I knew some of them. So I set up a meeting and said I wanted to pitch my version of THE MUMMY. They said, “Oh, yeah, sure, we’ve been trying to get this going for about ten years. Let’s see what you have.
It was funny, because when I went in I pitched for an hour and a half. I did this really long, beat by beat, character by character pitch. I basically did the whole movie. When we came out of the meeting the Producers Jim Jackson and John Daniels turned to me and said, “You know, we’ve been trying to make this for ten years and tried to make it between 8 - 15 million dollars.” So I said, “Well you know, that’s not what I just pitched.” I want to do was the big event MUMMY. ... and the next day they call me and said, “Hey, you’ve got the job!”
SMB - Was this the MUMMY that was hooked up with Cameron?
SS - JAMES CAMERON!?!
SMB - Yeah. It was written that he was linked up with a MUMMY movie. But I don’t know if it was the UNIVERSAL MUMMY or maybe the Anne Rice one?
SS - Anne Rice’s MUMMY. Yeah I knew of all the people that were involved with this MUMMY. John Sayles, Kevin Jar, Joe Dante, George Romero.
SMB - Really?
SS - They’re probably all pissed off with me because the studio kept turning them all
down because for years they wanted to make the film between 15-18 million dollars. Anytime anyone would go over that budget they’d just shoot them down. Then of course I went ahead and made mine for close to 80 million. (Laughs)
SMB - But you pitched something vastly different from what the others pitched.
SS - Right. They all tried to make a low budget, gothic horror movie. After Kenneth
Branagh’s Mary Shelly’s FRANKENSTEIN and MARY RILEY, MARY RILEY I think everyone realized no one was interested in that anymore.
SMB - Well I agree with you there. I least when I laughed during your films it was
because it was intentional. Unlike Branagh’s FRANKENSTEIN, there were times we were hysterical.
SS - To be honest, I’ve seen only the first 5 minuets of MARY RILEY, MARY RILEY
... just 5 minutes into it I said, “Oh my God! That Julia Roberts!” (Laughs)
“What’s she doing?!” “She looks horrible!”
The girl got smart. Now look at her. She decided, you know what, the big and the big smile - man they work for me. She is great when she does that and when she does, you can count on a movie bringing in 100 million dollars.
SMB - I guess this was a little too different for her.
SS - (Silence for a moment, then) Everybody maybe.
SMB - Moving right along now. About the Commentary on the DVD, I listen to it ...
SS -YOU DID!?
SMB - Yeah, sure.
SS - Did I sound okay?
SMB - Sure.
SS - You know I just don’t have the time to listen to them so my editor said to me that maybe I should listen to one just to get an idea of what they do. So we listened to ARMAGEDDON. I thought it was so funny the way Ben Afleck was just bashing Michael (Bay) and ragging on him. (Laughs) It was really kinda funny.
SMB - Ben’s the stereo type why actors need scripts. But getting back to your Commentary. You mention that scenes in the film originally were longer.
But none of those scenes are on the disc in the Deleted Scenes Chapter section.
SS - Well, here’s the thing... they tried to put stuff on the disc but ...
Now I’m going to pat myself and my editor on our backs. My editor has been with me since film school and he reads every draft of the script and beats the snot out of me. I remember on our first 3 movies we made together we cut one scene. Now we’ve done 5 features and we’ve done only 1 day of re-shoots.
That was to re-shoot the last scene in DEEP RISING because people wanted a longer and bigger kiss. That was it. On THE MUMMY, as big and as complex as it was once we finished the last day of principal photography we never shot a single frame of film again. That was it. What happens is we always end up tightening our movies. It’s not like most where there’s a bunch of added scenes. Like... oh, have you ever scene THE ABYSS? The Director’s Cut?
SMB - Sure.
SS - Oh my God, it must be like 10 million dollars worth of special effects that hit the floor. See on our film we didn’t really have that. We just have heads and tails left over. Do you know what I saying? So they (UNIVERSAL HOME VIDEO) tried to put stuff together but there wasn’t that much interesting stuff. What interesting scenes there were everybody had already scattered to the 4 winds. My Director’s Cut was 2 hours and 14 minutes, and the final movie was almost 2 hours. That unusual because if a movie is gonna run 2 hours most Director’s Cuts run 2 and a half hours. It’s a matter of just tightening each shot.
SMB - One thing you hint at in the Commentary that’s missing is Brendon’s character explanation as to why he’s in the Foreign Legion and the mentioning that Benny’s character is Hungarian.
SS - Oh, yeah, in the beginning. Well Brendon’s character was never really explained. I’ll leave that open for the sequel. I always kinda wanted him to be the Clint Eastwood kind of “Man with no name.” In the first one you learn everything about Evie but you learn nothing about O’Connell. But the scene I was talking about was when the two guys (O’Connell and Benny) are on top of the big wall running and having this conversation and then Benny trips on this big sand dune and knocks Brendon on his ass then they go running down this ramp all the while having this conversation. While we were making the movie we thought, you know, this is taking too long. 3 thousands guys on horses racing across the desert and our 2 leads are just yapping away so we cut it out. Mainly it just was about Benny being funny. Kevin (Benny) is hysterical and I always let my comic side go, but at the end of filming I’ve got to watch it because too much a good thing is just too much. But about Brendon’s character, all that was really said was when Benny was trying to guess what O’Connell did. He says something like, “So what were you ... a kidnapper? An extortionist?” He don’t get an answer, so he yells, “Then what the hell are you doing here?!” Then we cut to the 3 thousands charging horses and then to Brendon who looks at the camera and says, “I was just looking for a good time.” Another reason we cut that out was we realized he was our lead guy and we thought we shouldn’t start out with himnbeing funny.
SMB - Did you have to make any massive changes after you pitched it to the studio?
SS - For me it’s always an evolving process all the way up to the last days of the final
mix. So when you say from the pitch to the final mix, yes. That span was almost
2 years. Lots changed. Every time I finish a draft of a script I think its perfect.
Then I get away from it and I give it to people and I get notes. Then 2 weeks
later I look at and say, “Oh shit.” Then I have a bunch of notes. So I re-write it
and I say the same thing, “It’s perfect!” Then the notes come in again, I re-read
it and 2 weeks later I re-writing it. When we’re shooting it, after you hiring
various actors each changes it, each in their own way. Then the production
designer does it in his or her own way. Hopefully I try to hire the best people
I can and surround myself with the best people so I can trust them to do their
jobs. Then we go to post (post production) and you suddenly realize there’s
stuff that’s not needed. I hate having holes in the story so I tend to over explain
things at times. I realized that the audience doesn’t care about that! They don’t need to know that! Generally that’s what gets cut out. None of the cuts are big scenes.
SMB - When are you hoping to go into production on MUMMY II?
SS - Well, sometime next May or June, but it may be the following May or June. It depends how the script comes along. Plus these are such hard movies to make.
We’re not just going to rush or pump one out just to make some money. A least that’s not the way I feel and I know that’s not how the Studio feels. It costs too
much money to make. It takes 2 years of my life so why do something crappie.
SMB - It also depends on the schedules of the actors returning. That is if you’re planning to use the same people again?
SS - Oh, yeah. That’s pretty much a done deal. Not contractually, but I’d be really surprised if they weren’t. We had such a really good time with this movie and all the actors and myself got along so well. I still talk to them quite regularly. They’re all up for doing another one.
SMB - You hinted in the Commentary about bringing back the Princess Anck-su-namun.
SS - Oh yeah, we gotta bring Anck back. Basically I’m bringing everybody back who
lived at the end of the movie, and even some of the ones that died. It’s a mummy movie, I can do that. Imhotep may have sunk down in the bog but he said, “Death is only the beginning.”
SMB - Would carry on the story in any fashion close to the past mummy films?
SS - The only mummy movie I’ve ever seen is the old Boris Karloff one until about about a month ago. I was walking in UNIVERSAL and somebody had a bunch of them on their desk and I commented that I have never seen any of them and they just handed them to me. Since then I’ve watched bits & pieces of them.
SMB - I like the way each film followed the family line through the decades.
SS - Yeah, but it’s so tragic. After the first one your sitting there and saying, “Alright they defeated the bad guy. But then you wind up seeing the people you like die in the 2nd or 3rd.
SMB - But that’s why it’s a horror film.
SS - Yeah, I know....
SMB - It’s a mummy movie. It’s all part of the curse. At the same time it keeps the audience unsettled and not knowing what to expect.
SS - That’s what was so great about the original ALIEN movie. It was brilliant, because the audience could only assume that Tom Skerritt would live. He was the handsome lead in the movie... and then he dies. Even with John Hurt, he was the most known actor at the time so you’d think he was gonna live... and he the first one to die. So you’re completely thrown for the second half of the movie assuming everyone can die. That’s really unsettling.
SMB - Then you like horror/sci-fi?
SS - Oh yeah. I’m not into just horror films. I rarely see, just a horror film. It has to have something more. It has to have some science fiction attached. Like the 1st ALIEN. Or maybe action like the 2nd ALIEN. See, I like JAWS. To me I liked JAWS not because it scared me but because the characters are so great. That’s why I liked that movie. I don’t watch a horror movie just for horror.
SMB - How did you get involved with DEEP RISING?
SS - I spent about 6 years doing a bunch of DISNEY movies, which I’m very proud of, (HUCK FINN, JUNGLE BOOK) but after HUCK FINN I was offered every script with a kid in it. After JUNGLE BOOK I was being offered every script with an animal in it. So I thought, you know what, I think I’m going to go out and kill a bunch of people now. (Both laugh.) I wanted to show I could do action and work with special effects as well as anybody. It worked out very well, it was the last movie out that year, for the summer. We were supposed to come out before ANACONDA but DREAMQUEST, DISNEY’s special effects company was 9 months over schedule. Originally DEEP RISING was suppose to be the 1st monster movie out in 4 years. The monster movie before that was ALIEN 3. But because we were pushed back next came ANACONDA, MIMIC, then ALIEN 4.
I’m forgetting some others. Then of course we were suppose to be the first boat movie. We supposed to come out before SPEED 2 and TITANIC. We were like the 8th monster movie and the 3rd cruise ship movie to come out that year. (Laughs)
So if we would have come out before ANACONDA it would have been a whole different story. I mean, I’d compare my movie to ANACONDA any day.
SMB - Me too. In fact I’ll compare your movie to TITANIC any day. I felt more for the passengers on your ship in that one long shot of all the remains of those killed than I ever could for Leonardo.
SS - You’re harsh. (Laughs)
SMB - Not really, Kate was a bitch and stupid as well. Leo rode her, rode the boat as it went down and never said I love in the end. What kind of “Night to Remember” is that?
SS - (Laughs)
SMB - You know what scene I love in DEEP RISING that most people probably missed?
It’s when they’re trapped in the kitchen and all the guys are arguing over whether to stay or leave. In the background Famke (Janssen), the only woman, is standing in the background, on the right side of the screen, watching the guys fight while eating bread like the audience is eating popcorn.
SS - You know, that’s funny because Famke and I talked about that. She said, “You know what, I’m a girl. I just want to eat now. I know it sounds like a dumb character thing but these guys are being all macho and arguing, I’m just gonna eat and watch.” I said, “Fine, go ahead and stuff yourself.” It was a lot of fun. I really love that movie. Let me put it this way, I don’t think I’ll every have an audience preview screening like DEEP RISING again. THE MUMMY screenings went fine, but DEEP RISING was great. Part of the reason is when we showed the movie they were so behind schedule by the time we started previewing it almost all the special effects were in the movie. For the first 20 minutes it’s a little quite, there are some funny moments and then it kicks for the next hour and ten minutes. The audience was just screaming and was truly terrified or were just laughing their ass’ off. Every screening we just got them. They were just eating the humor and horror up with a spoon.
SMB - It did well, financially?
SS - Well, the studio just didn’t know what to do with it. They didn’t even have a poster until about 3 days before the movie was released. Then they came out with a shot of Famke screaming under water - that took no brains.
SMB - It’s weird that both trailers for your films, DEEP RISING and THE MUMMY used the music from DRACULA.
SS - Rarely does a trailer have the music from the movie. Jerry (Goldsmith) scored in April but the 1st commercial came out for the Superbowl. The 1st trailer came out in about February and by the end we were finishing scoring it was thought Jerry’s music could be used but it turned out to be too late. For smaller movies where they market it 2 or 3 week up to the movie they can do it. But with a movie like this it just can’t be done.
SMB - You had not used Jerry previous to DEEP RISING?
SS - No.
SMB - How was it you decided on him then?
SS - I had met Jerry before and we tried to work together on JUNGLE BOOK and it all just fell apart. Then I got onto DEEP RISING, he read the script and just wanted to do it. We just hit it off on DEEP RISING and I told him at the time I was going to do THE MUMMY. He said as soon as you get a script let me see it. He saw the first draft and said right away, “Oh, I want to do this.”
He spent months working on THE MUMMY. I kept going over to his house and listening to stuff, he’s just really good. I think that’s because it just had everything, ancient Egypt, Cairo, the twenties, action, romance, horror, humor. Like the last scene in the movie, you’ve got romance inter-cut with John Hanna who’s comedy. Listen how that music plays. It plays the romance perfectly and switches over to the comedy perfectly without over playing either. I remember when he first saw it he (Jerry) said something like - “Oh thanks I’ve got the big moment when the two leads are going to kiss and you keep cutting over to the comic side kick. Thank you!” Jerry just makes it work perfectly. Every once and a while I’ll have ideas and throw them his way. But he takes me by surprised by saying, “Instead of doing it faster, how about we do it really slow
where people aren’t expecting it at all.” For instance when we cut to the end titles - I always thought we should have this really rousing music. Really upbeat and rousing. Jerry did it completely the opposite and we all went, “Wow!”
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