It seems like 2011 has been a pretty good year to be Joe Cornish.
After all, he released his first film as a writer/director this year, the instant cult classic “Attack The Block,” and he’s also got a co-writing credit on the new Steven Spielberg animated film “The Adventures Of Tintin.” Add to that the work he’s been doing with Edgar Wright on the still in-development Marvel movie “Ant-Man,” and this is pretty much as good a year as you can have as a filmmaker.
When I introduced the film at its first screening this year and then held the Q&A with Cornish afterwards, it was the kickoff to what has apparently been a non-stop media parade for him, and when he called last week, I told him how much I’ve enjoyed seeing everything unfold for the film in the meantime. “I appreciate that. Thank you. The support from the, as you’d call it, blogosphere has been the absolute lifeblood of this film, and I’m very appreciative of all the support.”
That’s the point, though. When I love a movie, the only thing I can do to help is to keep talking about it as much as possible. I told him it was strange seeing the movie at home for the first time because I missed hearing all the reactions that were part of each public screening I went to for it. “Well, hopefully, if people haven’t seen it, they can have friends over and make an event of it and turn the lights out.”
I told him that one of the things that really made the theatrical experience so special was taking someone to see it who had no idea what it was, then watching them react. “The more you look at the box-office and what’s happening in the industry, familiarity is the key, and it seems like everything has to be a sequel or a reboot or something. Movies that are original are very rare, and I thank you for helping to get the word out.”
With “Tintin,” that’s a film that has name-brand recognition to varying degrees around the world, and I asked him how he feels about the finished movie. He sounded very excited, but stressed, “I am but a small part of that equation. I am one of three writers on that movie, and the line-up of talent in front of and behind the camera is pretty phenomenal. I deserve a fraction of a fraction of any credit for that film.”
I asked him about the future of “Attack The Block” now that it is an established property, and asked him about the rumors of TV spinoffs or sequels. “I don’t really rule anything out. I don’t have any carefully formulated career plan or scheme or professional flow chart. I’m fairly open, really. I kind of do want to do something different next and I’ve got an idea that I’m working on, but at the same time, it is really fun to think about what would happen next in that story.”
I told him that now that Hollywood’s figured out how great John Boyega is, he might have a hard time finding a place in the schedule where he can have him back to star as Moses again. “Well, I think John Boyega was going to be a force to be reckoned with, with or without us. I just feel lucky we got him in his first film and that we have him in a lead role that shows off his talents so much. To play a part that has so little dialogue and that is so dependent on his eyes is a real challenge, and I’m so proud that he’s taking such big steps now.” I’ve sat down with Boyega a few times now, and he strikes me as a genuine film fanatic, a guy who loves watching movies. You’d be surprised how uncommon that is in Hollywood, and I told Cornish that’s one of the things I love about Boyega. “He’s a 100% good guy, and he’s passionate and dedicated and very serious and very motivated. His whole family is behind him, and he’s young enough to take all the steps he needs to in a totally unhindered way. And, yeah, he loves movies. I follow his tweets, and every day, he’s tweeting that he’s just seen ’50/50′ or ”Contagion’ or The Lion King 3D’ or some such thing. He’s the real deal, I think.”
“Attack The Block” was produced, in part, by Edgar Wright, who has been a longtime friend and supporter to Cornish, and this summer at Comic-Con, Cornish alluded to an idea that Wright had for a sequel to the film. I asked Cornish if he’d ever consider writing that with Edgar. “Edgar and I are always talking about all sorts of things, and I’d always want him involved. I’d always seek his opinion on anything I did. With ‘Attack The Block’ sequels, we’re still just shooting the breeze, really. John Boyega had this one brilliant image of Moses… John’s idea is that there’s another wave of aliens that come down, much bigger aliens, and in much greater numbers, and he has this image of Moses on the back of a police horse wielding a samurai sword and leading this army across the Westminster Bridge near the Houses of Parliament, kids on bikes and mopeds all massed behind him, all coming from South London to Central London to come and battle these aliens in the center of the city. That’s pretty cool, I think. It’s just fun to think of images and directions it could go. Anything’s possible. I remember when they announced ‘Aliens’ as a sequel to ‘Alien’ and thinking ‘Naaah. That’s not going to work.’ And then going to the cinema and sitting there thinking ‘Holy f**k, this is amazing.'”
The thing most people forget is that “Aliens” took years to make, arriving in theaters a full seven years after the first movie. There was nothing automatic or cookie cutter about that sequel, and it started with a great story idea first. “It’s always got to be a good idea first, I think, and not just one good idea but a whole shitload of good ideas if it’s going to be worth doing.”
That image that Cornish described is a phenomenal one, but I can’t help but wonder about how that sort of thing plays right now in London, and how long it’s going to be before they shake the images of civil unrest from this summer. I asked Cornish if he took any personal heat from anyone for the way he humanized his unlikely heroes in his film since the events in London. “Nobody made the connection, and I think you’d have to be simple-minded to connect us to that. What happened in London was very complex, and I think at the heart of it, there was a genuine grievance, but what happened around it was very opportunistic, and very complex. There was all sorts of media being lazily blamed, from ‘Grand Theft Auto’ to ’28 Days Later,’ and I think that’s just one of those things lazy people do, point at paintings and blame them when the reality is behind them. That sort of thing.” I was glad to hear him shrug it off like that, since I think media gets scapegoated in some very stupid ways. “I think anyone who loves movies and the history of movies realizes stuff like that is just a sort of white noise, and movies endure. If ‘Attack The Block’ is about anything, it’s about that energy that young people have and how, when young people get together, what a strong force they can be. It’s important that society pays attention to them and takes care of them, otherwise that same energy can be channeled in quite negative and destructive ways. The one thing people have to do is help them feel involved and engaged in society.”
One of my favorite scenes in “Attack” is purely about that energy he was talking about, when the guys see the second wave of creatures start to land and they each run to their apartments to get things they can use to fight them. “That was all taken quite directly from research. I did months of research, talking to young people, and I would talk them through the scenario, and I would ask them, ‘What would you do under that circumstance?’ and there are two movies I always think about in that sequence. One is ‘Aliens,’ when Ripley and all the space marines are going to the planet in their drop ship, and they also have that gung-ho ‘Let’s do it’ attitude that quickly reverses when they get down there. And also the other sequence was in ‘E.T.’ when Elliot is sure there’s something in the back yard, in the shed, and his brother and his friends are like, ‘You stay here, Mom, we’ll check it out,’ and he runs to the kitchen drawer and gets a knife, and they have the same kind of gung-ho attitude. That’s what it’s like to be, that sort of energy and sort of naive attitude and enthusiasm that young people have, and when I did my research, I found so much humor and intelligence and irony and awareness amongst teenagers. Overall, what I felt was their potential, and it’s reductive to define somebody by one action, especially if they’re in an environment or a place in the world that limits their options, you know?”
I ended the interview by asking Cornish about the status of “Ant-Man,” a Marvel movie that he and Edgar Wright are co-writing. Although it’s never been officially announced, it seems like that’s a possibility for Edgar to direct, and while I couldn’t get Joe to talk on the record about his work on the film, he did suggest that he and Wright are still hard at work on the genre-bending idea they have for the film, one that should stand apart from the movies Marvel has made before. He also strongly stated that “Ant-Man” is Edgar’s project, and something that he feels Edgar should speak about if anyone’s going to. I respect that boundary, and I’m just excited to hear that they’re still at work, trying to make sure they’ve got a great script for the film.
Overall, Cornish strikes me as a guy who is unfazed by the enthusiastic response to his film, and who simply wants to keep his head down, keep working, and tell fun stories well. I really enjoy his sensibility, and I want to encourage any of you who haven’t seen the film yet to check out “Attack The Block” as it arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on October 25, and “The Adventures Of Tintin” when it shows up in theaters in the UK that same week, and in the US near Christmas.