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Since making his directorial debut with Money Talks in 1997, Brett Ratner has carved himself a comfortable niche in Hollywood as a reliable purveyor of mainstream entertainment. Although he's taken the helm of several series already in full swing, including the Hannibal Lecter and X-Men franchises, he's authored his own successful trilogy with the Rush Hour films, and tackled a variety of different projects in between. But despite his consistency and his commercial success, Ratner remains a polarizing figure who joins the ranks of folks like Michael Bay and Paul W.S. Anderson who ostensibly deliver what audiences want but seem to catch flack for doing so.
Most recently, Ratner helped shepherd a Bollywood film to screens in the United States. Titled Kites: The Remix, the re-edited film excises iconic Bollywood tropes like musical numbers in favor of a streamlined, romantic adventure that features two comely leads who regularly find themselves in spectacular action set pieces. Cinematical sat down with Ratner at the film's recent Los Angeles press day, where in addition to talking about his involvement in Kites, he offered some insights about his own work, and revealed some of his own motivations and inspirations.
Cinematical: What to you is the value in participating in something like Kites: The Remix – not only lending your name to it, but getting it re-edited and distributed outside Bollywood?
Brett Ratner: It's relationships. Reliance is my partner. But what's the value in Quentin [Tarantino] lending his name to Tony Jaa? I don't think he's getting paid for it.
Cinematical: It seems like the fan boy audience is always surprised to hear that you're a cinephile – even if it weren't professionally-driven, this is something that might intrigue you.
Ratner: I see what you're saying, but Quentin had nothing to do with that [movie]. I saw Tony Jaa movie too. Or John Woo puts his name on Le Circle Rouge. It was different, this. I did a lot of work on it and they wanted me to take credit for it, whether they had ulterior motives or not. I don't think anyone's running to the theater to see it because I did it, but people who see it, maybe they'll say, "oh, that's the guy who made Rush Hour." I didn't take a producer credit because I had nothing to do with it.
Cinematical: So what do you feel like you get out of this experience, whether it's personally or artistically or professionally?
Ratner: I gave an example of a Polish movie [that i recently saw], and that's a movie I just loved and I was like,"wow." But the most exciting thing about this whole process is that AMC is showing this movie, which would never happen. It would never happen. So it's taking little steps and being a part of the whole. I'm interested in a lot of things, but my name's been on movies of people that I helped. My assistant wanted to direct a movie and I put my name on it to help him. It's sometimes personal, sometimes it's [professional]; Fox puts my name on Prison Break every episode but I only directed the pilot. So I don't know – sometimes it's in their best interests, but I don't think about it. You think of my name as a piece of commerce, and if they want me to be a part of it, I'm happy. I'm not precious with it.
Cinematical: Having worked for a variety of websites that cover genre material, I've noticed there seems to be some animosity, which I'd say is undeserved, either towards your movies or you as a director. What do you think they respond negatively to, and how do you feel about it?
Ratner: When I was making [X-Men: The Last Stand], Bryan [Singer] told me "don't read the internet, because they're going to confuse you." There are rabid fans of specific characters, and if you're not pleasing them, they're going to go against you. They said the same sh*t about me until they saw the movie, and even after the movie, people were just pissed off. So I stayed away from it, and then in recent times I noticed a lot of the stuff, or the stuff that said I ruined the franchise. If I ruined the franchise, how are they making more movies? It doesn't make sense. So I haven't figured it out, and I haven't tried to figure it out, but the experience of making X-Men was one of the greatest experiences I've ever had. I love the people I worked with, I was grateful to have the opportunity, and it was a collaborative effort. I would have loved to have seen Matthew Vaughn's version, and I would have loved to see Bryan Singer's version, because I'm a fan of all of those guys. I'm looking forward to seeing the new Matthew Vaughn X-Men.
Cinematical: Why do you think it is that fan boys are so polarized about filmmakers like yourself and Michael Bay who ostensibly just give them exactly what they want?
Ratner: Honestly, I don't know. I can't figure it out. If I spend my days trying to figure it out, I'm not going to be a happy guy, so I just accept it. I'm somewhat of a fan boy myself, so I think there's a lot of lies or stuff that's been said about me, but I know the truth about what I've done or not done as far as comic books I've read or not read. But it's crazy.
Cinematical: I know Beverly Hills Cop IV is a project you're interested in down the line. Why is it that movies like that seem to ebb and flow in terms of momentum, and what does it take for something like that to get made?
Ratner: When you're on a roll in a franchise, even Rush Hour took three years in between, so it's hard. Michael Bay's [Transformers], that's a machine; he's focused on that and that's his full-time, 24-hours-a-day [job]. I'm spreading myself thin a little bit, but these are hard things. If I just said, "this is my next thing" and spent all day 24 hours a day doing that movie, you can't do that. You can't put all of your eggs in one basket. I'm trying to create my own [projects]; I have a comic book movie, Youngblood, Harbinger is a movie that I wanted to make, and there are movies that I attached myself to that I was interested in but for some reason, whether it was location or budget or schedule, I just couldn't make it work. It's not easy. I was a guy who made a movie every year, but now I'm being a bit more thoughtful about what movie I'm going to do next because I don't want to be just the go-to guy on franchises. I want to create my own franchise or do something like what Bryan did on X-Men where he did something from scratch. So there's this original tower heist movie that will probably be my next movie that I've been working on; it was Trump Heist before, because I've been working on it for two and a half years and gone through seven writers. But I'm passionate about that story and that's what I'm kind of doing – I'm in between working on Hef, working on that movie, God of War, but I always come back to Tower Heist. That's a movie that fits me, and I'm not a strategist, I'm more of an instinct guy; when I read a script I go "I want to do this." But I haven't read a script that's been given to me that I was like, "I've got to make this right now." It's like there's a script I really like, I like the story, but the script needs work and I want to keep developing it. Or, well, if I can get this actor for this movie – for the Brian Wilson story if Philip Seymour Hoffman would do it then I'll do it, but if not, I can't see myself doing it. So many things need to come together to make a movie go [into production], so it's just hard. But I'm not one of those guys who makes a movie every ten years. I'm not so precious about it. I don't feel like what I'm doing has such importance.
Cinematical: Is there a sense of transformation with this Tower Heist movie? Or is it a continuation of what you've already done?
Ratner: Everything that I've done has prepared me for this film, kind of. It's got action, it's got a heist, it's got humor, it's got drama, it's kind of what I do best – juggling multiple genres. Every movie I've done – Family Man was kind of a romantic fantasy – and each movie I've done, obviously Rush Hour is an action comedy, so I like multiple genres in one. It's challenging, walking that line – how far do you go. It's a movie that I just feel is something that I want to make. It's not personal, but again, a lot of brilliant filmmakers made masterpieces that had nothing to do with them. They just needed a job or were compelled to tell the story or it was a good film for them. I don't make a film, though, if I can't make it personal. It doesn't have to come from me, but if I can't bring something to it, [I won't do it]. I wanted to do the biggest version of X-Men, the most commercial [movie possible].
Cinematical: You mentioned bringing something personal to each film you do. How do you determine what makes that experience personal? Does making the biggest X-Men movie ever make it personal for you?
Ratner: No, I think I brought a lot of heart to it. Bryan brought something else. I'm a guy who loves relationships and characters and I think I brought a lot of heart. I think my movie was very emotional – not more emotional than Bryan's, or maybe his was more specific in the details of the mythology. But [I try to see] if I can make it my own, if I can own it; personal is not putting me in it, necessarily. But the directors I admire, like the Coen brothers, you don't have to see "A Coen Brothers Film." You know it's the Coen brothers, so that movie is me, but I stayed true to what Bryan created and what the characters were. I didn't try to change anybody, because they knew what the hell they were doing. So when I say "personal," I was offered movies that I turned down like Memoirs of a Geisha where I loved the story, but I was like, how do I make it my own? What do I bring to the table? How do I make it special? And that's what I look for in a movie. I'm not a strategist, like I'm going to do three comedies; I go with my instincts.