Flight is Robert Zemeckis first full-blown live-action movie in over a decade. So it’s kind of a big deal, considering who he is. The Aero in Santa Monica hosted a weekend-long event, celebrating Zemeckis career by screening a few of his classic films including Back to the Future, Who Frames Roger Rabbit and Cast Away. On Sunday night, the theater screened Flight to a sold out crowd. After the film, Zemeckis showed up for a Q&A in which he talked about Tom Hanks, his favorite scene in Flight and the meaning of filmmaking.
We were able to attend the event. Here are some highlights of that night’s conversation:
Zemeckis, who is a pilot himself, is no stranger to plane crashes. His 2000 film Cast Away revolves around an airplane crash landing incident. He mentioned that he had to have a lot of conversations with his representatives and partners about having another plane crash in one of his movies, but in the end, decided that the story was too good to pass on it.
“What interested me in the project was Denzel Washington’s character – He had to be a pilot. Plane crashes are traumatic and cool and he had to be a person who had a profession where he was responsible for other people’s lives. It had to be a plane.”
In the film, Washington plays a veteran airline captain with a drinking problem. The story follows the events after he miraculously lands an airplane and saves dozens of lives. The characters in Flight are complicated much like in real life, something that Zemeckis said attracted him to the script in the first place.
“When I was reading the script for the very first time, I felt that I had to keep adjusting my own moral compass – I thought you don’t read [script] like these very often… I didn’t know where the script was going and that was a good sign.”
Zemeckis, who hadn’t worked with Washington before, praised the actor for his brave and “zero-vanity” performance. He also mentioned that he wanted to bring in someone like John Goodman, who plays Washington’s ballsy, drug-dealer friend in the movie, because of his impeccable comedic timing.
The director also talked about technology and special effects. He said that he enjoyed watching films with special effects as a kid, and was always fascinated by the process of putting something animated and unreal onscreen. But he also mentioned that he wasn’t a big fan of going back and digitally enhancing old movies.
“People ask me, ‘Do you ever think you’ll go back and digitally enhance any of your old movies or change things in them?’ And I say no. I always felt that one of the things that’s really cool about movies is that not only are they an entertainment and a story that you’re telling, but they are also historical documents.”
Zemeckis also talked about the music in his films, an element that is very important to him. He mentioned that sometimes he’ll get ideas for a specific sequence and other times an actor will give their input on what music taste their character could/should have. He briefly talked about the music in Forrest Gump, and said that he decided, early on, that since the film was telling an American story, there would be no British-invasion music (like The Beatles or The Stones).
Tom Hanks also came up during the discussion. Him and Zemeckis have collaborated on a number of projects including Forrest Gump, Cast Away and The Polar Express. The director said that Hanks is one of those amazing actors with “genius versatility.”
Some directors love being on set, but for Zemeckis that’s he’s least favorite part of the filmmaking process. He loves writing, design and post-production. He noted that he’s always depressed at the end of the shooting day.
“There are a lot of directors who just live to be on the set, and I like being in the editing room.”
Towards the end, Zemeckis mentioned that his favorite scene in Flight was one where there were no effects, just a few actors standing on their marks. The scene he’s referring to is one of the best scenes in the movie and includes Washington, Kelly Reilly and the scene-stealing James Badge Dale smoking and talking in a hospital stairwell.
The audience was also able to ask Mr. Zemeckis some questions. One person asked about the common themes in his movies. Zemeckis said that he always looked for character arcs, even if the main character stayed the same, he wanted some of the characters to change throughout the film. An eager filmmaker asked for some advice. Zemeckis told the story of the time he screened his student film for George Lucas and asked him for advice on how to become a filmmaker, to which Lucas replied:
Flight is currently in theaters.