On the Set of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

27 years ago, Hasbro Toys produced an extensive cast of military themed characters known as G.I. Joe. The concept was based on the 1964 12″ action figures, which initially represented the four branches of the US Armed Forces. For the 1982 relaunch of G.I. Joe, the characters were revamped to a much smaller size in scale, a complex mythology for the line was developed, and each action figure had its own biography.

The wildly popular toys sparked the interest of Marvel Comics, which created a comic book on the characters that was used as a creative marketing campaign to generate more awareness for G.I. Joe. The books became the top-selling item for Marvel at one point and soon after, an animated TV show was created. Now, finally after years of hardcore fans hoping for a movie about the military action heroes, Paramount Pictures is releasing G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.

The live action film, which is primarily based on the comic books, is directed by Stephen Sommers and a lot of the film was shot in Downey, California where ComingSoon.net/Superhero Hype! had the opportunity to visit the set and talk to Channing Tatum, who plays Duke, Sienna Miller, who portrays The Baroness, and Ray Park, who is Snake Eyes.

We watched a scene with Tatum and Miller and as if that wasn’t enough, we were given a personal tour of the incredible set by producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura. Bonaventura’s knowledge of the toys and passion for the movie was extremely apparent as he gave us very detailed and in-depth answers to our questions while he proudly showed us his latest endeavor. The first set he let us see us on the sprawling soundstages of Downey was McCullen’s submarine, where we also asked a few questions about the film.

Lorenzo di Di Bonaventura: What would you have if you were a really rich guy? If you could build your submarine anyway you wanted to build it so we sort of took the idea of a corporate jet and turned it into a submarine. It’s a little bit of “10,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” Was it 10,000?

Q: 20,000.

Di Bonaventura: Thank you. It’s Monday and by Friday it’s 40,000. It’s a little bit of Caption Nemo. It’s a little bit of a corporate jet. This is McCullen’s desk. This is where he hangs out. This is the control room of the submarine. It’s even padded wall. We took that idea of a corporate jet and said alright what would it look like in a sub form.

Q: This is so detailed. How long did this take to build?

Di Bonaventura: We’ve been moving so fast on everything so I don’t know the exact timing, but we only had 13 weeks prep so everything has been done in the last 20 something odd weeks. It’s been crazy. We’re shooting today until the end of the day and we’re going to reveal a couple of things at the very end of the movie. One of the conceits that we had in the movie was you got a lot of characters that the fans know so how do you introduce them all, how do you explain them to the non-fans, how do you make it true to the comic book, but also let the non-fan catch up to the comic book. Some of the things we tried to do is explain the origin of Destro’s mask, or Cobra’s mask, where do the back stories begin. A lot of the difficulty that Steve had in terms of working with Stu was to get the description of every single character so you get to know them again. We want the comic book fan to be happy and recognize their characters, but we want the non-fan to catch up so a lot of the juggling we had to do was in response to that. How do you explain Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow’s back story? Everybody has a back story in the comic book so how do you get that across in one movie and deal with 11 or 12 characters that you’re very familiar with that in a very detailed way.

Q: Was it a last minute thing where director Stephen Sommers added cameos?

Di Bonaventura: He has a surprise character and it won’t be one of the ones that you know from the lore. Brendan Fraser was a huge G.I. Joe fan so he called Steve and said, “I’ve got to be in it. I’ve got to do something.” As it turned out we had a scene that was good for him to come into.

Q: How much of the movie takes place on the sub?

Di Bonaventura: I’d say there’s probably four or five scenes. There sprinkled all throughout and at the very end is the most intensive use of it.

Q: Did you build a new Hummer?

Di Bonaventura: We were using some different Hummers for different vehicles, but there’s a lot of different kinds of vehicles in the movie. There’s a three-wheeled motorcycle, there’s snow mobiles, there’s submarines, big ones like this then there are miniature ones. There’s a lot of fun eye candy in sports.

Q: Is there an air fight?

Di Bonaventura: I wouldn’t call it that, but there’s definitely three of four different air vehicles. Five actually. That’s not really an air fight. It’s kind of a spectacular chase. There’s not a fighter pilot kind of thing.

Q: What was the most challenging scene to build in Downey?

Di Bonaventura: Probably the urban combat level of the pit and that was the hardest because we had to do it so fast and we’re shooting relatively early in the schedule.

Q: What about the enormous ice cave?

Di Bonaventura: That’s not quite as hard. That’s actually the surface of the polar ice cap. The trick there is trying to make it look cool on film when you’re not shooing in the polar ice cap.

Q: This is a cool screen on the wall. What is it?

Di Bonaventura: If you’re looking at he surface of the water, what they have to go through. It’s kind of like a channel.

We then briefly checked out a mini sub on our way to watch the scene with Channing Tatum and Sienna Miller.

Di Bonaventura: This is still under construction. These guys are still getting it together obviously. We just did a redesign last week. This is a bunch of mini subs. This is the S.H.A.R.C. which is the good guy sub. It’s a two-person vehicle obviously. This wall will light up and all of this stuff will be operational.

Q: Who has to be inside the mini sub? It looks so small inside.

Di Bonaventura: Heavy Duty has to fit in here.

Q: Heavy Duty is going to pilot this?

Di Bonaventura: Yes, he pilots one of them. There’s lots of them.

Next we were taken to M.A.R.S. headquarters, which stands for Military Armament Research Syndicate, and is Destro’s company.

Q: Is that an actual company or is it just more of a front?

Di Bonaventura: Well he’s got his legitimate side and his illegitimate side. There’s been a big giant battle here and a lot of the set has been demolished in the Joe’s attack on M.A.R.S. headquarters. We keep the water motif alive. This would be looking out on the polar ocean. One of the things you have to worry about in a film like this is there’s two different groups, there’s two different headquarters, how do you make them look differently? When you see the video graphics that we use, it tends to be blue and red if it’s in M.A.R.S. headquarters. That’s sort of partly for Cobra and if you’re in G.I. Joe, it’s sort of green and brown so there’s a distinct visual application of the attitudes of the different sides.

Q: What do the people manning this station look like?

Di Bonaventura: They’re in a uniform.

Q: Are they Vipers?

Di Bonaventura: No, they’re not Vipers.

Q: How much of the film takes place here?

Di Bonaventura: There’s quite a bit. The docking bay is obviously part of this. It’s all part of the same environment. That’s the docking bay for this control room.

Q: So this isn’t Cobra?

Di Bonaventura: This is McCullen’s operation.

Q: In the movie Destro is the threat and Cobra evolves as the film goes on?

Di Bonaventura: Cobra does evolve as the movie goes on, but Destro is the most significant villain because his resources are the ones that built this wild place.

Q: You guys are using these colors to kind of foreshadow Cobra, but it’s not like Destro is calling his operation Cobra.

Di Bonaventura: No, he’s not. You’re exactly right. The blue is foreshadowing.

Q: So the word Cobra isn’t even spoken until he becomes in charge later?

Di Bonaventura: Very late in the movie. We’re always talking about M.A.R.S. and McCullen and Destro.

We were then taken to the doctor’s office where the human experimentations are performed on Vipers.

When we walked in, the first thing we noticed was a chair which looked like an old-fashioned electric chair with creepy instruments nearby. The set had a very clean and sterile feel to it as you would imagine a doctor’s office to be like and jars of colorful liquids in a glass cabinet behind the chair.

“There are needles that come out of them and the subject lies here and gets injected from both sides of the table,” Bonaventura explained.

Q: So what are they trying to do to the subject? Experimenting?

Di Bonaventura: Yeah, they’re doing these experiments about how to make somebody not afraid, how to make somebody have endurance, how to make somebody take orders, so it’s sort of a…

Q: Super subject?

Di Bonaventura: Yeah, yeah, I mean they’re not super in that way, they’re enhanced, I guess. Enhanced soldiers is how we would say.

Q: Is this Doctor Mindbender?

Di Bonaventura: No, this is The Doctor. This is not doctor Mindbender.

Q: Who plays The Doctor?

Di Bonaventura: Joseph Gordon-Levitt. And he’s a wild character. It’s a new character to the series and I think the fans are going to really, really take to the characters. It’s really in the spirit of the comic book.

Q: So Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays multiple characters? Is that what you’re saying?

Di Bonaventura: Yeah. Everybody has a background. Everybody has a past. Not everybody’s the same person all the way through. There’s a lot to this movie. And what happens here is an obvious thing and this set is being taken down right now or getting ready to blow up one more time.

Q: And The Doctor works for Destro?

Di Bonaventura: The Doctor works for McCullen, yes.

Q: How significant is this operating chair in the movie?

Di Bonaventura: It’s a big moment in here.

After the doctor’s office, we were shown the inside of a G.I. Joe submarine which was so detailed with complex screens, gadgets and buttons that it could have been a real sub.

Q: What’s the name of the sub?

Di Bonaventura: We’re actually being asked to change it so I don’t have a name for the sub right now. Our name didn’t originally clear so we have actually have to come up with a new name.

Q: Cleared by Hasbro?

Di Bonaventura: Whatever the process you do in terms of clearing names for… they may have already had a toy sub with the same name.

Q: This wasn’t one of the original toys, right? I mean, there wasn’t a sub. I don’t remember one.

Di Bonaventura: No. Not to my knowledge.

Q: How much of the movie takes place in the G.I. Joe sub?

Di Bonaventura: Just a couple scenes in this. Two or three scenes.

Q: Pretty nice set for two or three scenes.

Di Bonaventura: Yeah, I know. It’s a pretty important moment in the movie.

Q: Who’s the captain of the sub?

Di Bonaventura: We don’t name him. We’re really looking at this scene as really through the eyes of the Joe’s. What they’re preparing to do, where they’re trying to discover McCullen’s lab where it’s located and they use the sub to get there.

Q: Which Joe’s are on board the sub?

Di Bonaventura: Scarlett, Snake, Breaker, Heavy Duty. I may be missing one.

Q: Do the Joe’s have their own equipment so this would be their sub, or do they work in tandem with the military.

Di Bonaventura: We play it that they have their own equipment. You know, they have their own resources and it’s its own stand-alone unit.

Q: Did you have any military advisors, as far as for the interiors?

Di Bonaventura: Yeah, yeah. As much as we could. It’s less about that but it’s more about getting the protocols right. There’s a special forces scene that has nothing to do with the Joe’s. You know you want to get those things right.

Q: Who do the Joe’s respond to?

Di Bonaventura: General Hawk. Hawk is his own stand-alone unit. The way we play it is you’re not exactly sure where he’s gotten the authority but he has total authority.

Q: Now, here’s the important question. How many times do they say “Yo, Joe” throughout the movie?

Di Bonaventura: Ah, at least three or four times.

Q: Screaming it as they go into battle?

Di Bonaventura: They do that. There’s moments where they’re about to go do something where that’s an appropriate thing, yeah.

Q: Are you guys already thinking as you’re filming of doing anything for the DVD or Blu-ray? Are you doing like a “making of” doc as you’re shooting?

Di Bonaventura: Yeah, we have somebody on board who’s been doing it since the beginning of the movie. Shooting everything. So we should have hours and hours and hours and hours of footage.

Q: Is there any example you have of a toy or a character that you look at and then you just go “that’s completely unrealistic. That would not work in real life. We just need to change it”?

Di Bonaventura: Well, look, the idea of Snake Eyes is not really all that realistic, I mean the idea of the guy that goes through life, doesn’t say a word and wears this sort of battle armor–that’s what we call it sort of battle armor, you know?–it’s a fairly uncomfortable way of going about life. I don’t think this is about realism per say. The whole series has some really extraordinary aspects to these characters, so I wouldn’t say this is real.

Q: Would you say it’s about the same level as “Transformers” like about the same level of realism vs. fantasy or more so or less so?

Di Bonaventura: Maybe a little bit more… well that’s a hard question to answer because what’s different about this than “Transformers” is “Transformers” has all these robots, okay, and so that’s the fantasy if you would. But we have all these characters–humans–but they’re not really real in that sense. Some of them have real attitudes, they have real relationships. You’ve got Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes that run around wanting to kill each other–a life long–I mean how realistic is that?

Q: Right.

Di Bonaventura: I love it but and I think the fans will love it. We’ve had more requests for people’s kids to come to the set than any movie I’ve ever worked on. I mean, it’s staggering how many kids wanted to come here and I can’t quite figure it out because they didn’t grow up with the TV series and the comic book. It’s not there, but what we found out was a lot of dads have really handed down the toys and stuff to their kids, so these kids that come in–6 , 7 years old–they know it better than we know it. They know it inside and out and they’re constantly analyzing, “Is Storm Shadow going to fight Snake Eyes? How many times?” “Who wins?” It’s like they are really into it, so I’m hoping that’s a good sign, but literally I’ve never had so many requests for people to bring their kids down or crew members bringing their kids down. It’s constantly been a flow of children coming through here, which I think is probably a great sign for us.

Q: Are you constantly fielding questions about is Firefly in it? Is Dusty and Serpentor in it?

Di Bonaventura: We’re asked a lot of those questions. At some point dramatically it’s very hard to handle the number of characters that we’ve already handled. If you go much further than that you don’t really get to know anybody, so we’ve really sort of said, “you know what? We can deal with this many in this movie” and we made the same decision in “Transformers.” X-number of Decepticons, X-number of Autobots. If we tried to tell more than that, you won’t get to know them.

Q: We know there is a bigger group of Joe’s or is it that this group of Joe’s is only 10 people big?

Di Bonaventura: No, no, no. I’ll show you the Urban Combat Level momentarily, which is only one level of the pit, there’s no doubt in your mind that it’s a gigantic organization. We don’t spend any time in the movie saying, “Okay there’s these guys off doing another mission” or that kind of stuff. We just sort of treat it as inherently obvious. It’s a big organization. There’s a lot people in it. You wouldn’t build it… you’ll see this one level it’s a little bit beat up because we had an attack on the pit and its gotten… taken some serious damage, but you get a sense on the scale of it there’s 7 floors of the pit.

Q: So in the movie they’ll reveal where the pit is located?

Di Bonaventura: You will know relatively speaking where the pit is located. You won’t know exactly. You’ll see it found and you’ll enter it. Yeah.

Q: I have to ask. There were some pictures…

Di Bonaventura: The pit, as you know, is moved around a bit in the comic book so we’ve taken advantage of that a little bit too.

Q: Now there were some pictures that were leaked recently and they showed Storm Shadow without a mask. Is that something we’re going to explore? We’re going to see both a masked and unmasked Storm Shadow?

Di Bonaventura: Yep.

Q: Mask and un-mask Snake Eyes?

Di Bonaventura: Nope. Nope. We asked Larry [Hama] that question actually and it’s clear that Snake Eyes can’t ever be seen but it’s not from the comic book that Storm Shadow can’t be. He’s like, “No you can see him.” So we’re like, “Okay, great.” So you’ll see both.

Q: Did he have a gun strapped inside?

Di Bonaventura: He has a gun, he has two swords.

Q: Like Snake Eyes.

Di Bonaventura: Snake Eyes has a sword.

Q: A sword. Snake Eyes uses guns too, right? Doesn’t he?

Di Bonaventura: Yeah. Yeah.

As promised, we were then taken to see the pit which looked like it had been severely attacked. As we walked through our amazing tour guide explained the scenes that will take place in the pit.

“It’s blown up in the middle of it and actually there’s a great beat where Sienna–The Baroness–is standing right there and this thing gets destroyed and then they’re under attack so she slides down this thing firing away. It’s a pretty cool little moment for her character. And as you can see, these buildings are sort of non-descript. It’s where it got the name is that they’ve been practicing urban combat in here.”

Q: These vehicles will be like Jeeps or actual vehicles that we’ll remember from playing with when we were kids?

Di Bonaventura: They’ll be a combination of things. Will you remember them from kids? No, they’re more present day I would say.

Q: Like we’ll see a helicopter or will be see like Wild Bill’s Dragonfly?

Di Bonaventura: You’ll see – you might see a jet pack in here. You’ll see a lot of Jeeps. You’ll see a lot of Hummers. You’ll see… you might see some helicopters and things like that.

Q: So do we have a time frame when this is happening? Is it 2012, 2020 when?

Di Bonaventura: In the near future. You know, 10-15 years from now. And one of the things we’ve tried to do is every bit of technology we use is, if not existent today, plausible sort of extensions to where we’re going.

Q: In the comics we’ve seen “Transformers” and “G.I. Joe” crossover. Any chance that would ever happen?

Di Bonaventura: I don’t know. I find when those kinds of things happen for me, I get confused. I like to keep the mythology separate, but if that ever happened, and I doubt it would, but if that ever happened it would be way down the road.

Q: Now you said Destro is in the movie throughout and Cobra Commander comes on strong towards the end but where does Zartan fit in?

Di Bonaventura: Zartan is one of the characters – one of the group of the bad guys.

Q: So he’s here from the beginning? He’s part of this whole attack?

Di Bonaventura: Yes. You do see him in the attack.

Q: And any Dreadnoks?

Di Bonaventura: No.

Q: And how are you going to do the whole Zartan face change kind of thing? Is it CGI type of stuff?

Di Bonaventura: You’ll see. You’ll see.

Q: One of the cool things about “Transformers” was that you guys weren’t afraid to kill somebody off. Is a Joe going to die?

Di Bonaventura: I would never talk about that. We’re not afraid to kill a character; I’ll say that… or two.

Q: Are they wearing a red shirt? Like the “Star Trek” thing?

Di Bonaventura: No, but I mean one of the things that’s so much fun about this is that everybody’s got a favorite character. And through casting is always an interesting sort of miraculous process and I’m really proud of our cast and I think it’s really multi-dimensional, very different looks, very handsome, very pretty, very tough, very multi-ethnic, multi-countried cast and I think that’s going to be part of the fun for fans is everybody’s got somebody to relate to, or look up to or desire to be.

Our last stop was at legitimate division of M.A.R.S. headquarters which was a hanger that stored missiles, trucks and three Cougars which look similar to Hummers.

Q: Are these operational?

Di Bonaventura: Uh-huh.

Q: How did you build them?

Di Bonaventura: We took a chassis of a regular car and then we built this whole thing on top of it.

Q: So this is the legitimate…

Di Bonaventura: This is M.A.R.S industries, if you would, this is the legitimate thing. This is at the beginning of the movie. Duke and Ripcord are not part of the Joe’s at the beginning of the movie and they’re assigned to move something from here to another place and that’s when they encounter the Baroness and some of the Viper’s and the Joe’s.

Q: So there’s regular soldiers or whatever at that point.

Di Bonaventura: Special Forces. So that’s actually one of the storylines in the movie is they’re not Joe’s. Can you become a Joe? Do you want to be a Joe? And do they fit into that world?

Q: Do they even know what the Joe’s are or is like this secret thing that comes to them?

Di Bonaventura: No, it’s secret. So in a way they’re our point of view into the Joe’s. So for the audience member who doesn’t know the comic book or the series, Duke and Ripcord are their way into that world. We meet them and we understand what their role is. It’s simple, it’s very simple.

Q: Thank you, Lorenzo. I appreciate that.

Di Bonaventura: You’ve got it. Don’t worry. I mean, really you can’t make a movie like this just for the fans because there’s not enough to make it profitable. The balancing act of this kind of thing is you must be true to the… in my opinion… you must be true to the original aspects of the story or you’re going to alienate, I’ll call it your core fan base, but your core fan base represents–I don’t know–10% of your audience ultimately? 5%? 15%? It’s hard to measure it but I’m guessing between 5 and 15% of your audience, so you better get that 85 or 95% to understand what the movie is about, relate to the characters, etc. So, Joe… the Joe organization you meet them through Duke and Ripcord and then they ask the questions who are you guys? What do you do? Blah, blah, blah. How do you join, etc. so you can really follow along from that.


Source: Heather Newgen