McG reveals more about Terminator Salvation—and jabs Michael Bay

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

During a screening in Hollywood of footage from Terminator: Salvation on Wednesday, director McG revealed a wealth of new details about his upcoming film, including its potential rating, running time, whether Arnold Schwarzenegger will be involved and what he really thinks of Michael Bay.

The following is an edited version of the session from the event.

Will we get to see the film in IMAX?

McG: I wanted to shoot the film with this dead stock [old film that has been distressed to give the movie a desaturated look]. Therefore it wasn't conducive to shooting it in IMAX format. But we're going to bump it up to IMAX. We are going to bump it up, and it holds up very nicely, and it looks and sounds that much more impactful. But one price we had to pay for making those choices was that we didn't shoot in IMAX.

What do you have in mind for the rating of the film?

McG: We got together early on, I got together with Christian [Bale, who plays John Connor], and we want to make the best film possible. We don't care about the rating. We can't aim for the rating. There's one guy in the world who would be sharp with me about the rating, and he's sitting in here right now. He's [Warner Brothers executive] Jeff Rabinov, and we talked about this at Comic-Con. No joke. Jeff, rightfully so, because he's a tough businessman and people can run numbers at you, "It's this, it's that, you'll lose money." And Rabinov was the one who was cool enough to say, "Just shoot the movie. I'm not worried about it." All three of those [previous Terminator] films are R, so you've got a fearless Warner Brothers, which was excellent for us because it freed us up to just shoot the movie. Now, having said that, I'm not hung up about a PG-13. I look at The Dark Knight, and I think that picture was made compromise-free. I think it's an excellent artistic achievement, and I don't come out of there going, "Oh, if it would have been a little gorier, I would have liked it more." To the contrary. We don't aim for a rating, and we've been given freedom by the head of the studio to just make the best picture possible.

What's the running time looking at right now?

McG: Again, we're not particularly concerned about it. I mean, it's probably going to be right around two hours, maybe a little more than two hours, but we're not trying to target. And that's another thing: There's a guy who runs Warner, and he'll talk very intelligently about a certain cutoff of screenings where if you do it this way, you get x amount of screens a day, and if you do it that way, you lose that many showings a day. But we've been given the freedom just to make the best movie possible. Now I happen to think a lot of filmmakers are overindulgent in how their films run too long, but I don't like a movie that's 90 minutes in-out. I want a movie to have a correct length to have the maximum impact and give you something to think about as you exit the theater. I also think the audience is so intelligent that you can tell, oftentimes as a function of runtime, the amount of confidence in the quality of the film.

Have you spoken to Schwarzenegger at all about the movie?

McG: I have indeed. I spoke to Schwarzenegger, and I will be showing him the film shortly. I've got a lot to talk to him about in regard to the role he plays in this. It's something we've talked about a lot. It's a double-edged sword, because we've begun again; this is a new idea, and this is a new idea with Terminators, a new language. But he's such a part of it, the degree to which he'll be part of our film, you've got to be respectful of the seat he's in right now. We have to be sensitive, be intelligent, and he's our partner. He gets it, he does indeed wish us well, and I look forward to showing him the movie. I didn't want to do the movie if Schwarzenegger was like, "F--k you guys!" I want Schwarzenegger to at least feel respected.

Are you concerned about being up against another movie with giant robots this summer [Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, whose director, Michael Bay, has accused McG of mimicking his giant robots]?

McG: Well, I refer to the work of Michael Bay to eliminate what not to do. That's a joke. I talked to him an hour ago. Truthfully, the Harvester is a little reminiscent of a Transformer, and I don't want that. It's an ancillary character in our film, and our film is so different. It's something that Michael and I have talked about; Michael and I cut our teeth in a similar way, shooting a lot of film and coming up in the commercial [and] music-video industry. So I want to make sure there's no way we're going to have anything reminiscent of that. That also has decidedly manga characteristics; it's colorful and has machines hitting hip-hop poses. I like those movies, but we're not making that movie, and I say that in fun because I truly talked to Michael Bay two hours ago, because he took a jab at us. He emailed me today, and we talked, and it's a healthy competition. So we'll see who the last man standing is.

When you were in story meetings, were you planning one movie or several?

McG: We have already broken stories for the second and third movies. We don't explore time travel in this movie, and it's a huge part of the mythology. Having said that, we would never be so bold as to presume there will be another movie. A lot of people get in trouble thinking they have the best thing since sliced bread, the audience goes like this [thumbs down], and there isn't a second movie. I would never presume a second movie, even though Christian and I have talked about it. We talked about all of that, and we're ready to go if audiences say, "We want it." And we prefer to leave that to the audience.