By Jae-Ha Kim
Tribune Media Services
September 11, 2012
Producer Jon Landau has worked on many films (“Avatar,” “Dick Tracy,” “Solaris”), but he says that being on location in Mexico for almost a year shooting “Titanic” was an experience he’ll never forget. “You ask what it was like to produce this movie, and I say that it was almost like being the mayor of a small city,” says Landau, 52. “We had our own school, police department, fire department, you name it! Parents (of the child actors) would complain about the tutors and the teachers would complain about the stage parents. There was a lot to deal with, but it was wonderful.”
“Titanic,” which won 11 Academy Awards, has made its debut on Blu-ray, where viewers will be able to watch the movie in 2-D or 3-D.
Q. What are your memories of filming “Titanic” on location?
A. We started out with nothing. We took 40 acres of land in Playas de Rosarito, Mexico, and turned it into a studio. We had to bring telephone lines in from miles away and employed thousands of people to work on the film. When you go on location for any film, you have these very different experiences than when you go on vacation, since you’re living there for a few months. You’re not just there to do touristy things. You get immersed in the local culture on a day in and day out basis. We ate at the local restaurants and found all the good hangouts. It was great for us to have everything they had to offer at the time. We were there in their off season so we brought in a lot of business for them as well. I remember going to a restaurant once and there were16 people there eating, and 14 of them were from the film. I have many memories of the great food and experiences we had there.
Q. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet were very young when filming began. How did they adapt to being away from home for so long?
A. They actually did great, but they didn’t get to go out as much as some of the others. An actor’s day is never over. After filming ends for the evening, they have to go back to their room and work on their lines for the next day. They stayed in homes that they’d rented, so they were within our little community. Poor Kate, though. It was a two-plus hour hair and makeup process for her, so she had to be back on set by 5 a.m. just about every morning.
Q. Where have you traveled to that you’d love to revisit?
A. On a personal basis, the South Pacific or Micronesia. Fiji was a great trip because it combined culture with the tropics and diving, which I love. On the other side of the spectrum, I recently went to St. Petersburg. I’d been to Moscow before, and that had always been what I thought Russia was. But St. Petersburg was amazing — sort of a Venice of Russia, with all these waterways. It was very Italian influenced. I had an incredible time there. The food was really good, too.
Q. Are you a street food fan?
A. I’m always up for trying anything once. I do try to follow the rules of when you shouldn’t eat vegetables that have their skin still on them or that kind of thing. But I like to try to immerse myself in the food of the culture that I’m in and give it all a try.
Q. Have you eaten anything that you’ve regretted?
A. I wouldn’t say that I regretted it, but I tried blowfish once when I was in Japan. That’s the type of thing you only need to do once, because there’s a scary aspect to it. And I didn’t think it tasted great enough to risk trying it again. In Australia, I tried kangaroo, which tasted a little like venison, which is a little gamey. And I’m not necessarily a fan of gamey foods.
Q. If you could travel to anywhere you wanted to tomorrow, where would you go?
A. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to many places. If I look at a map, I go, “Wow! I’ve been really lucky.” But I’ve never been to Egypt and I would love to go see the pyramids and visit Luxor. Thailand would be amazing. Again, both places combine culture and history with exotic locales.
Q. Have you been on any trips where you didn’t feel particularly safe?
A. I went to Indonesia years ago and was visiting a temple where I was approached by a local churchgoer who sort of asked me in a somewhat intimidating way what religion I was. And that was a moment where I felt uncomfortable, because I didn’t know what he would consider a right or wrong answer. So I told him I was an atheist and got myself out of the situation. I must say the rest of my trip was great. So it wasn’t that I didn’t feel safe in Indonesia. It was about the particular situation I was in.
Q. When you take on a new film, how important is the location where you shoot?
A. If someone writes in the script that you’re in the Himalayas, then you have to go there, but when you have a choice, you have a lot of leeway in where you can shoot. On “Avatar,” we had a choice and we chose to shoot in Wellington, New Zealand. One of the best parts was that when you had a day where you didn’t have to work, it was a wonderful place to just live. It’s a great, environmentally conscious artistic community. Everyone thinks we went to shoot the film there for the rain forests, but we only shot in the studio! We truly could’ve gone anywhere since none of it was filmed outside. We went for the artisans and the lifestyle we knew we’d enjoy and embrace during our months there.
Q. Where will you travel to next?
A. For work, it’ll be back to New Zealand to shoot the next two “Avatar” films concurrently. We will do live action and visual effects there.
Q. What are the things you always bring with you on the airplane?
A. My iPad and headphones. Then when I’m sitting there, I can watch all the shows that I’ve downloaded and I can connect to local television, get local news from home and just keep myself busy. I carry those two things in my backpack all the time, along with my passport, because I never know when I’ll need to get out of a country quickly!
© 2012 JAE-HA KIM
DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.