On the Road with Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance

Ghost Rider’s New Locale

The filmmakers wanted to be in real locations as much as possible, so they went scouting all over Europe to find the perfect castle, the purpose being to set the film somewhere more ancient and it more of a “Western fable.” They ended up shooting a lot of the exteriors in Transylvania, home of another literary horror legend.

“We wrote the script then found the locations based on that,” Taylor told us. “A lot of it is when Kevin (Phipps, the production designer) came in, just based on the script. We knew we were going to be in Eastern Europe, knew we were going to take the thing South. A lot of it was based on weather. We just wanted to get out of the freezing cold this time of year and get someplace where it wasn’t going to snow and we could shoot these outdoor scenes ‘cause we wanted to transition into daytime for the end. The most convenient thing South was Turkey so what do they have in Turkey? Kevin started finding us stuff down there. It was so serendipitious, like incredibly fortunate that it just happened to be geographically the perfect place for us to be, the exact perfect thing for this.”

“We don’t have a budget of ‘Transformers,’ so a lot of the scale of the movie is set by shooting in these exotic places and these amazing things and soaking it all in, shooting in real places, not a lot of sets,” Taylor continued. “The first one was all sets, so what we do is we always try to shoot as much in the real world as possible. We like real places even if they’re repurposed locations. We wanted to shoot in as many practical locations as possible. We were fortunate (because) Kevin has a lot of a background in Romania, so he knew a lot of places where we could do this stuff or had ideas of novel places that we could repurpose and use, so we could shoot in real places as much as possible.”

This took them to Cappadocia in Turkey, a mountainous area filled with caves in which people still lived, and this was the perfect environment for the religious sect that Moreau and Methodius are part of.

“Turkey was just like a gift, like a lucky accident, to have all that stuff right down there,” Taylor said enthusiastically. “This place Cappadocia in Turkey, it’s like the desert planet on ‘Star Wars’ in real life. It’s crazy. You haven’t seen anything like it visually. The geography of it, just everything about it felt alien. It’s not what we’re used to. The shapes of the mountains are different, the trees are different, everything’s different. It just feels very bizarre, almost dream-like. There’s these landscapes out there with those black curly trees, it looks like a Dali landscape. People just live inside mountains, they just carve their houses out of the rock of mountains. You can see 10,000 people living inside these rock caves, really elaborate, up to the 50s. Like in the 50s, they had electricity wired in there and they lived there and there are still people living in caves.”

“Cappadocia was such an original looking place that when people see it on film, nobody’s going to believe that’s not a CG background or a matter,” Arad added. “Really, everything you’ll see at Capedoccia is just the vistas. You go to Europe and everything you see is thousand years old, so once we chose it, we actually wanted to embrace it and there was something interesting in a ‘Da Vinci Code’ kind of way about the scale of the history of it.”

“I can’t believe nobody’s shot fifty movies there,” Taylor agreed. “We’re shooting in these 6,000-year old ruins and just tromping all over them like it’s a backlot, it’s nothing. ‘Here you go, shoot it, it’s history.’ There’ll be like a thousand-year old statue and grips are like standing on the head when they’re setting lights and stuff, so everybody’s just soaking it all up.”

Inside the Caves of Cappadocia

One of the main reasons for these set visits is to actually see some of the locations and though we couldn’t go to Cappadocia proper, we did get to wander around the interior cavern set they had built on the soundstage of Castel Studios to recreate that environment. What was most impressive about these sets is that it wasn’t just one big cave interior or a couple but it was a series of large caverns connected by narrow tunnels that could be walked through from one location to another. What was amazing is that they had set up lights to represent sunlight so as you walked into the caverns with holes in the ceiling, the light shining in looked just like what the sunlight flowing into the caves may have looked like. There were probably four or five caverns including a wine cellar filled with bottles of wine preserved in holes in the wall.

After wandering around, we watched them filming a non-action scene in one particularly impressive location, the monastery’s armory, an absolutely enormous room filled with every sort of weapon imaginable from knives and crossbows to shotguns, machine guns, pistols and some of the most high-tech weaponry imaginable.

We watched take after take of Elba’s character Moreau leading Cage and Placida through a tunnel into the armory and they’re both suitably impressed as they’re brought over to a table covered with guns and they test them out. (Placida looked incredibly sexy wielding a gun, we have to say!)

The dialogue changed slightly with each take, but essentially the conversation went something like this:

“Without Zarathos, we don’t stand a chance against Roarke,” Elba’s Moreau tells Blaze as he leads them through the tunnel.

“I thought you’re supposed to have a faith,” Cage responds.

“But we should have guns, too,” Moreau says as they come out into the armory.

“Guns and alcohol, some priest. I’m starting to like you,” Cage jokes, although a couple of takes he responded by saying, “Naughty priests.”

Even though the scene we watched was fairly innocuous, Arad and Taylor both hinted about an exorcism scene being shot in a different part of the caves during the time we were there, though clearly, it involved major plot spoilers they didn’t want to give up so readily.

“Well this exorcism scene is going to be excellent. We shot half of it this morning and we shoot half of it at the end, but we’re really welcoming… ” Taylor paused there to figure out the best way to go on. “There’s like two different versions of Nicolas Cage. There’s sort of mainstream Cage and there’s balls-to-the-wall Cage, and we’re definitely welcoming the demon. The performance we’re getting from Cage, it’s going to be one of those epic Nic Cage performances that people talk about. “

The Bikes

A big change in the new movie is the look of the motorcycles ridden by Blaze, his supernatural alter-ego, and some of the other characters, all organized by Alex King, the film’s vehicle coordinator, who is responsible for finding all the vehicles for the production and keeping them in shape to use, often having to fix the ones trashed during stunts.

As mentioned before, this Ghost Rider and his ride aren’t going to be entirely CG, so King had to have separate bikes for Blaze and the Ghost Rider, as well as having back-ups for each. In both cases, the bike they decided to use was the Yamaha VMax 1700, a large high-end motorcycle that has weight to it but still feels compact.

They decided to bypass the usual product placement opportunities that were offered to them in order to have a bit more creative freedom with what they did with the bikes and they went and outright bought four new VMAX motorcycles (at 20,000 Euros apiece!) for the production, two used pretty much as is for Blaze’s bike, then two being modified into Ghost Rider’s new Hell Cycle. The latter is quite a departure from the large tricked-out chopper seen in the comics and previous movie, and they modified it quite drastically, painting it a solid black with all the rubber and leather melted to make it look like it’s covered in tar or as King put it, “like something that came from out of the fires of hell.” They had limited time to create the new Hell Cycle but it will be enhanced by CG after the fact. Because they’re so expensive, they don’t use the VMAX for stunts, instead having retrofitted a Kawasaki KX3 to look like the Ghost Rider cycle.

King walked us around the studio’s parking garage showing us all of the vehicles including a number of the vehicles stolen by Nadya before she meets up with Blaze, and the Porsche driven by Ciaran Hinds’ Devil which crashes during a chase, and we got to see the after-effects of that crash. Moreau’s character also rides a bike as he travels around, but it’s not quite as impressive and it’s more rundown than Blaze’s.

Clothes and Make-Up

Much of our time with the costume and make-up departments revolved around the various transformations: Johnny Blaze into Ghost Rider, Carrigan into Blackout and the Devil’s body deteriorating, and how the clothes and make-up are used to enhance those transformations.

Costume designer Bojana Nikotovic invited us into her trailer to check out some of the outfits she’s made for the shoot, including Johnny Blaze’s leather jacket, pants and boots, which were essentially the same as before but had been aged and worn out to make it look like he’d been on the road for years. When he transforms into the Ghost Rider, that leather jacket is painted to make it look burnt similar to the Hell Cycle, but they also put oil on it to make it look shinier. (Knowing this confirms that the Ghost Rider isn’t fully CG in the movie but is a combination of CG and practical.)

She had fun designing an outfit for the movie’s sole woman, Violante Placido’s Nadya, although they didn’t play too much with Nadya’s background as a gypsy since they were shooting the exteriors in winter–which is very cold in Romania–and they couldn’t have her too scantily-dressed while driving around the countryside. The movie doesn’t take place over a long period of time either, so she really only needed one outfit, and it offers some of the film’s only colors since they mainly stuck to simpler darker tones for the other characters. This was clear from some of the snazzy Italian suits Ciaran Hinds gets to wear as the Devil, all grey, dark blue and black, and though his transformation is very physical, those elegant suits aren’t affected.

Idris Elba’s Moreau wears a mish-mash of second-hand clothes including T-shirts, scarves and jackets, while Carrigan’s costume is also fairly simple but it had to go through a series of phases as he transforms into Blackout and destroys everything he touches (including his own clothes).

The make-up department is also heavily involved with the transformations but mostly for Carrigan/Blackout and the Devil, so later in the day, make-up department head Jason Hamer and prosthetic make-up artist Kerrin Jackson spoke to us about their transformations. He went through the silicone make-up worn by Johnny Whitworth after his character is “blessed” by the devil, which covers his entire head, arms and chest, which you’ll see as his outfits erode. Jason’s crew–which was only eight people on their biggest days with hundreds of extras—also felt the rush of a production that got rolling fairly quickly, trying to do make-up tests before everyone was off to Romania, though the filmmakers thought the original Blackout make-up made him look too much like a zombie. While there were elements for the character taken from the comics, for the most part, they created their own take on the Blackout character, so no ponytail or his vampiric aversion to sunlight.

Jason showed us a few of the later stages in Ciaran Hind’s make-up as the Devil, in which he had a burst blood vessel in his eye and looking almost nothing like the actor. We were told that he is wearing make-up throughout the movie and only really looks like himself in a flashback as a younger version of the character. All of their make-up would later be embellished by visual FX but they clearly had put a lot of time into doing what they could practically. While the rushed production has been a problem, their biggest challenge had surprisingly been dealing with Romanian and Turkish customs who held much of their supplies as the production got underway.


The 3D Conversion Debate and Wrapping Up

3D definitely has been a big thing in the last few years and it’s been a major part of almost every set visit we’ve done, although in this case, they weren’t filming in 3D but went into the production knowing they were going to convert the movie into 3D after filming. It’s a strange decision because there’s been such a backlash towards 3D conversion, but Spirit of Vengeance is being released in the weeks directly between 3D conversions of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode I and James Cameron’s Titanic, which should change some minds about doing 3D after the fact. It’s especially interesting for Neveldine and Taylor because of their kinetic filmmaking style and how that may translate.

Taylor spoke to us about the decision to do 3D post-conversion and how this decision affects the way they make movies. “This is really going to push the envelope of what people think can be converted, ’cause there’s a rulebook of things you can’t do if you’re shooting 2D to go to 3D,” he told us. “I mean, there’s a lot of things. You can’t have fast cuts, because it’s disorienting, and it will make people throw up. Of course, that doesn’t work for us, we gotta have fast cuts. It is valid if it’s true but we don’t think it’s true because there’s ways around that, there’s ways we can finesse the transitions between the 3D and sort of modulate the depth of it to completely get rid of that. You can’t have lens flares, you can’t have soft foreground… things that we’re used to as part of the film language. You can’t have something soft in the foreground and sharp in the background. That’s the movie language, so sometimes that’s shot 2D for conversion can end up looking really stiff. They don’t want to have a lot of handheld or a lot of motion or movement. ‘Could you just slow everything down so we can track it and convert it and make it look beautiful in 2D?’ But the guys we’re working with and sort of the theory we have going into this, we’re throwing all of that away. We’re throwing the whole rulebook away and this is going to be a movie that doesn’t feel like other 3D movies, really. It’s going to be very kinetic and very fast-moving and very much the language of film that we love. It’ll just be in 3D.”

(We had a chance to speak to the film’s stereographer, but between our jet lag and the darkened interview space, we were barely able to follow what he had to say about the technical side of the conversion.)

Before we left, we went out to the backlot where the 2nd unit was shooting a scene involving Ghost Rider attacking Carrigan’s headquarters in a quarry. They had rebuilt a part of the quarry, including Carrigan’s office, in back of the studio and we watched as a bunch of Carrigan’s armed mercenaries, shot into the air at a large array of lights hung by a crane, which represented Ghost Rider on his bike zooming down towards them.

Unfortunately we didn’t get to see Nicolas Cage at all as the Ghost Rider, though that’s been satisfied by recent trailers. We did learn a lot about the look and feel of the movie as well as how some of the actors are approaching the material, so we’re quite optimistic their work will pay off when Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance opens nationwide on February 17 in 3D and 2D theaters.