Unlike his brother Ridley, director Tony Scott has seemingly never been obsessed with winning an Oscar or gaining his peers respect. The 66-year-old filmmaker has instead made a name for himself with moviegoers across the globe by directing some of the most acclaimed action films of the past quarter century. From “Top Gun” to “Crimson Tide” to “True Romance” or “Man on Fire,” this Scott knows how to get things moving on the big screen. He also seems to continue to find ways to collaborate with Denzel Washington. Opening today, “Unstoppable” is their fifth film together.
“Normally I’d say ‘Goddamn I”ve worked with Denzel three times. I”ve got to look elsewhere,'” Scott says. “Then I come around and say, ‘God, but he”s so perfect.'”
Speaking to Scott a few weeks ago in anticipation of the release of his “Speed” on a train thriller, one is struck by how humble and charming the filmmaker is considering his staggering success. There is no pretense from him as an “auteur” (even though he is an accomplished artist in numerous medias). In his mind, he’s just still trying to make good movies and to challenge himself. “Unstoppable” fit that bill as a “true story” (sort of) centering on a runaway cargo train in Central Pennsylvania.
The picture’s story begins with the misfit pairing of an experienced train operator almost on his way out (Washington) and a younger conductor (Pine) who the older employees aren’t thrilled has taken one of their jobs. On the same day they begin working together, their company has to deal with the emergency of an unmanned runaway train on the loose on Pennsylvania’s railway tracks. Scott admits “true story” is stretching it just a bit.
“We said ‘inspired by true events’ because that”s the fact,” Scott clarifies. “You know, what I did? I did all the research and there was, in the shadow of 9/11, there was a runaway train which [was a big story in Central Pennsylvania]. Since then there have been 10 other runaways. Almost one a year. And they get sort of buried in the press.”
Scott took that concept and used real-life men from a separate incident to fashion the story in the movie.
“I go and do my research and I then I found guys who have nothing to do with that event and I reverse engineer those characters,” Scott admits. “These two guys have been together for 12 years. Their first day of the job is what we re-honed into the script. So, I take from the railroaders over here, from a real runaway train here and so we mix and match.”
And Scott is hardly looking for a story credit. He had enough on his hands trying to fashion action sequences with real trains instead CG stand ins. Oh, and causing a real train to derail on screen for massive effect with no CG. Something Scott proclaims is “one of the most difficult things I”ve ever had to choreograph in terms of movie making”
“The actual trains themselves cost us nothing. They were sitting in a yard because the industry”s hurting. And it”s a lot cheaper honestly to spend the time, the shooting time, doing it and actually doing it versus doing it CG,” Scott insists. “But that”s not why I did it. I did it because I felt…there”s always mistakes and things you don”t anticipate but I capitalize off. With that train you can never, no matter how long you sit in a room, conjure up all the things that happen in real time knowing that train”s derailing. Or, what happens to the actors when you put them in real life situation, everything changes. They”re fighting the vibration. They”re fighting the noise. The window [expletive] falls out but it”s…then you watch the performance do this and you watch, not improvisation, just tone. But out of tone I get something very spontaneous.”
Still, it’s the challenge of the unknown and unexpected that appears to keep this Scott’s interest.
“I love it because it”s like a huge adventure and I say I love adventure and I love challenges,” Scott says. “I”m a big rock climber. I go climbing in Yosemite. I spent three days hanging on the north face and that”s not nearly as intimidating as the first week on a movie like this. But because if you look at it I did everything for real not because I”m an old fart.”
Old fart or not, Scott’s “Unstoppable” shows he can still teach his younger colleagues a thing or two about fashioning a crowd and aesthetically pleasing action flick.
For more on Scott and his expected return to a “Top Gun” sequel, click here.
“Unstoppable” is now playing nationwide.