How Matt Reeves Achieved His Radically Different Vision for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Posted: July 8, 2014 in Movies

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes photo

The success of 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes made a sequel inevitable.  The green-lit sequel suffered a severe blow when Rise’s original director Rupert Wyatt dropped out a couple of months before shooting was to begin.  Wyatt was convinced that he could not do a proper sequel by the studios hoped for May 2014 opening.   Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In) was hired to replace Wyatt. 

The original Rick Jaffa (co-writer of Rise, upcoming Avatars 2, 3, and Jurassic World)  and Amanda Silver(Jaffa’s wife and writing partner)  screenplay that existed at the time took place 8 years after the events of Rise and explored the dynamics of Caesar and Cornelia relationship and their family.  Scott Z. Burns was brought in to do some minor rewrites.  Reeves had a hard time relating to the story. 

In an interview with /Film Reeves explained his concerns:

“I wasn’t gonna do the film because it was a story that I didn’t quite connect to.”  . . .”It took place in San Francisco, post apocalyptic San Francisco.  And basically the first or second scene had the apes joining the humans and it all took place in the city and they were pushing up power lines and there was all this stuff that I just didn’t quite get.  But the thing that really I didn’t get because I wanted to see what led up to it was that they were already much more articulate than they are in the final film now.  They were basically fully conversant.  They could speak.  And I was like wait a minute, what I thought was so cool in Rise was that the apes are coming into being.  And that is what I found riveting.  Like watching Andy, and behind his eyes in his performance, you see this kind of roiling sort of sense of emotion and a desire to express himself.  And when he finally speaks, when he finally says no, it’s kind of breathtaking.  But it’s all because it’s been this simmering build up to finding a way to say something.  And when he does, it’s powerful.”

Reeves pitched to a bunch of nervous 20th Century Fox executives (principle photography was scheduled to begin in a few weeks) his new vision of the story. 

So I was like wait a minute, let’s not skip that.  Like I love the sign language between Maurice and Caesar even before Maurice had had the ALZ 113. I was like “there’s gotta be some way to use all these things and allow us not to miss the full coming into articulate expression.”  And I wanna see the beginning of language.  I wanna see the beginning of reading, of teaching the children the alphabet, of the beginning of the canon stuff, like all that kind of stuff.  First of all, I felt that what they had pitched me, the outline form, was not Caesar’s movie.  And I said, to me, the victory of your last film was that it was Andy’s and Caesar’s movie.  And that the most human character in that story was not a human at all, it was an ape.  And I thought that that was mind blowing, especially that they had been able to realize the visual effects in such a way that you had that level of emotional identification.  And I felt it was the deepest level emotional identification I’d ever experienced with a C.G. character.  Like I know all the stuff that Andy  (Serkis) had done, but I was, I got very emotional in some scenes.  And I thought, wow, that’s incredible.  How are they doing that?  And so I said, you’ve gotta make it Caesar’s story.  It should start and end on him.  It’s gotta be his movie.

The pitch was a success and a new screenwriter, Mark Bomback (The Wolverine, Live Free or Die Hard) was brought in to do the rewrite.  Fox announced on May 2013 that the opening of Dawn would be pushed back two months to July 18, 2014.  On December 10, 2013 Fox announced that the release would be pushed up a week to July 11, 2014.  Sets were prepped and struck in coordination with the script rewrite process. 

Reeves was surprised that Fox agreed to the new concept for Dawn.  The opening scenes were to be a gradual surprise and shock. 

” I wanted it to be like the beginning of 2001 with dawn of man except dawn of intelligent apes.  And I said, so what if we started with the apes and we told — like the way in the last movie you had an extended sequence with almost no dialogue in the habitat, what if we do that in the burgeoning ape civilization?  And we just see daily life.  And we see Caesar and we come to move from seeing them in this kind of eerie like “oh my God, the apes have inherited the Earth” kind of elemental, scary way to getting involved in their inner emotional lives.  And that by the time you got so connected to them emotionally and you started going like oh, Caesar has a newborn, Caesar’s a Father and Caesar has a family and these apes are essentially his family.  They’re a brotherhood.  That then you would introduce the humans.  You’d find out that they were alive and then it would be a question of co-existence that would live under everything.  You’d have a human family and an ape family.” 

For Reeves, a life-long fan of everything Planet of the Apes, it was a dream come true. 

“I had been a lifelong Apes fan.  I mean, literally as a kid, I wanted to be an ape.  I had the dolls.  I had all that stuff.  So when they approached me, I was very excited and I was especially excited because I thought that Rise had been done so beautifully and that in particular the emotionality that came from that was unexpected.  I thought, wow, this is a reason to re-enter this world. Because those films, I mean, the first one is a classic and I love Beneath and I even love the TV series.  I had, you know, all those dolls from the TV series.  And I think that what I thought was this emotionality and being in the apes kind of inner lives, that’s a reason to do this.  Like because you know the ending.  And so now the question is how do we get from here to there?  And I just thought that there was an enormous story because the world of Rise and the world that I was proposing in Dawn is so far away from the world of the ’68 movie that it immediately asks a provocative question, which is how do you get from here to there? “

Eventually the Studio bought into Reeves vision.  

“Actually the producers became real protectors of that idea as well.  Everybody was like, wait a minute, I know, you guys you’re not seeing yet, ’cause you have to understand when you’re in post on this thing, you spend most of the first year up until really the last few months looking at shots of actors wearing mo-cap equipment. . .And I kept saying, guys, I think this is gonna be one of the things that’s gonna be really unique and special.  It’s one of the reasons I wanted to do the movie.  And the crazy thing about it is is they kept saying, okay, okay.  And I kept pinching myself that somehow the craziest thing about the movie for me is that they let us make this movie.”

Reeves explained how the Fox executives reacted to the final cut of the movie. 

I remember the first time that I showed it to the studio and they were very emotional. They were excited that we were trying to be ambitious. As a director, I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop. For the moment they go, okay, so we’re kidding, we’re taking it away. Forget it, you don’t get to do that. Like I kept waiting for that moment. And of course there were debates and struggles about this and that. But the essence they were behind and that sequence in particular was something that was really important to me. And somehow we got through this process and now the world is seeing it and so it’s crazy.

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