April 19, 2012
Guest: Bobby & Peter Farrelly â Alastair Fothergill
TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER AND SLAPPING)
GROSS: That's the Three Stooges: Moe, Curly and Larry, as they sounded in 1940, slapping, poking and bonking each other, the kind of antics that made them perhaps America's most famous halfwits. And this was their theme song.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: It's kind of strange to talk over this music, since I'm not the type who would grab a frying pan and whack someone over the head. The Three Stooges started out in vaudeville and in 1934 made their first of over 100 short films that were later repackaged for television.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: Among the many people who watched the Three Stooges on TV were Bobby and Peter Farrelly, who have now paid tribute by writing and directing the new Three Stooges movie. The Farrelly brothers' other films include "Dumb and Dumber," "Kingpin," "There's Something About Mary," "Shallow Hal" and "Hall Pass."
The new Three Stooges movie is set in the present. Moe is played by Chris Diamantopoulos, Curly by Will Sasso, and Larry by Sean Hayes. In this version of their story, the Stooges live in the orphanage where they grew up. It's run by nuns who have largely learned to tolerate their mayhem. In this scene, the Stooges have accidentally driven a maintenance car into a guy on a ladder who falls over, knocking down several nuns and a visiting monsignor.
But the Stooges are oblivious to the fact that they're the ones who caused the nuns to be lying on the ground, and they think the monsignor is just a strange man trying to take advantage of the nuns. The Mother Superior, played by Jane Lynch, has just arrived on the scene and speaks first.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE THREE STOOGES")
JANE LYNCH: (As Mother Superior) What are you doing?
UNDENTIFIED MAN: (As character) We caught this lounge lizard getting all handsy with the nuns.
LYNCH: (As Mother Superior) This is no lounge lizard. He's here on official business.
MAN: (As character) Official business? Why didn't you say so?
(As character) Pick me up. I'll clip your hedges.
(As character) I'll hedge your clippers.
(As character) I'll fix your slippers.
(As character) You idiots. I'm not here to adopt.
LYNCH: This is Monsignor Ratliffe from the diocese.
MAN: (As character) Oh, sorry about that, Senor Rat Lips.
GROSS: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly, welcome to FRESH AIR. So you came up with a back story about how the Three Stooges got to be the way they are, and the back story is they are three orphans left in a basket at this orphanage, and they grew up in the orphanage, and they never get to see the outside world, and they're, you know, morons.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
GROSS: But everybody knows them and puts up with them for better or worse in the orphanage. But then they have to go out into the world and try to raise money to keep the orphanage going because it's threatened because it can't pay its bills.
PETER FARRELLY: Right.
GROSS: So how did you come up with that as the back story?
FARRELLY: You know, one reason that...
BOBBY FARRELLY: Well - go ahead, Pete.
GROSS: I'm sorry.
FARRELLY: I apologize.
GROSS: I should mention you're both talking to us from separate studios. Peter's in California, and Bobby's in the Boston area. So the good thing is - I mean, the bad thing is sometimes you collide in answering a question because you can't see each other, but the good thing is you cannot poke each other in the eye.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
FARRELLY: That's correct.
FARRELLY: Clearly there's something about the Three Stooges that is anachronistic. You know, those guys came from vaudeville. They started in the 1920s and made their shorts in the '30s, '40s, '50s. So they really - they saw the world differently than, you know, people see it today. It was a different world. They came from the Depression era and all that.
We wanted to be true to those guys, and so we had to create a world where, well, why are these three guys so, like, old school? And we thought that by having them grow up in an orphanage, where they were sheltered from the world and didn't have any of today's luxuries or any of those kind of modern-day accoutrements, that we could have them be old school.
And I think it works pretty well for the story that that's where they grew up, and they never left the orphanage until they have to set out and save the day.
FARRELLY: We also wanted an arc in this story. We wanted to have a beginning, a middle and an and. One reason that a lot of women didn't particularly love the Stooges growing up was because it was 18 minutes of - an arc-less 18 minutes, just flat, you know, hit, hit, hit, hit, end - because they didn't have the time in those 18 minutes to tell a real story.
So we needed - we knew we needed a story. We wanted you to know where they came from, we wanted to set up a situation, we wanted to build heart, and we wanted you to understand the characters so you would enjoy it more and it would - you know, this is way more of a story, a real story, than the Three Stooges shorts ever were.
Originally, Terry, they were shorts on the front of B-films. Back in the '30s and '40s, you know, that was - that was normal. A movie that didn't have a huge star, they would give them a couple shorts up front just to give them a better experience. And many, many movies had that back then.
But the Stooges were the last ones to survive that, and it was only because Harry Cohn, the head of the studio, was such a fan of theirs that when other studios started dropping the shorts, he kept them just because he happened to be a fan.
FARRELLY: He was a fan, but he never really - he never really gave them a good contract. So they kind of - for many, many years, they worked really for very cheap wages doing what they do, and they didn't have any residuals or anything like that. So their own story was a little bit sad.
But Harry did allow them to make all those shorts, and for that we are very grateful.
GROSS: You had to figure out how to do the Three Stooges slaps and punches and flying objects and getting hit on the head and all that stuff without really hurting anybody. So I imagine that's kind of hard to do because I think your stunts are a little more ambitious than the Three - than the actual, original Three Stooges ones. I mean, you do a lot of, like, simple eye pokes, but it gets way more ambitious than that.
So what are some of the things - let's start with the simple things like the eye pokes. How did you learn - how did the actors learn how to do that without really hurting each other?
FARRELLY: I don't think anyone ever said that they didn't get hurt a little bit, because, you know, what we had to do was actually, like when they slap each other, they literally had to slap each other. We weren't going to do it where they would miss and - you know, and you could see that, and you put a sound effect in and it kind of sells.
You know, when they do it, they want to make it look real. So they kind of were slapping each other. It's just that they were so intent on making it authentic than they'd take it to a riskier level than probably than even Pete and I were comfortable with. We were like come on, we can re-do it, we can add sound effects. But they wanted to keep it very real. So they came as close as they could.
But they're such professionals that they practiced enough, and nobody, you know, got seriously hurt. But I wouldn't say that they didn't annoy each other a little bit, where they - you know, when someone's slapping you, it's going to sting a little bit.
GROSS: Did someone almost get hurt? And this is a scene - I think it's Larry David who is playing a nun.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
GROSS: Sister Mary Mengele, and he's at the bottom of the orphanage, I guess, and the big bell on top falls on top of his head because the Stooges are doing the wrong thing, they're all on the roof. So did he get hurt?
FARRELLY: No, Larry, he would have walked.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
FARRELLY: He doesn't suffer fools. But no, nobody - he did not get hurt, but we had to be very careful that he didn't. And by the way, like the eye pokes, for instance, we did have them working with stunt men who were showing them that you do the eye poke actually over the - just over the eyebrows. And it happens so fast that it does look like the eyes.
And at the very end of the movie, we have a brief thing where two actors pretending to be Bobby and myself come out, and they explain to kids that, you know, these hammers are rubber. You don't go hitting anybody with a real hammer. And the eye pokes, we show how it's down in slow motion. And it's over the eyes. And we went out of our way to make sure that kids didn't try to, you know, do what they were doing in the movie.
GROSS: So that little disclaimer at the end, that's not really you guys?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
FARRELLY: It's an interpretation of us.
GROSS: You know what? Because one of them, I forget if he's playing Peter or Bobby, he's bare-chested, and he's so buff, and his nipples kind of can - he moves his nipples. And I thought: OK, this is a prosthetic chest. I was going to ask you about that later.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
FARRELLY: No, no, that's the real deal.
GROSS: So it's a whole prosthetic person, actually, it's not really even you.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
GROSS: Why didn't you do it yourselves?
FARRELLY: Couldn't get the nipples to move?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
GROSS: And really, why didn't you do it yourselves?
FARRELLY: Just for comic purposes. We thought, you know, if we're going to go - we've never been in any of our own movies. We don't do any Alfred Hitchcock walk-by's or anything, and for good reason. You know, we're not pleasant to look at. And these guys, we thought if we're going to go on at the end, we should, you know, do it in a funny way.
So we decided to have a couple of, you know, incredibly good-looking guys come out and pretend to be us and explain to the kids, you know, how we did these stunts and why they shouldn't be doing them at home.
GROSS: Now, since the Stooges' films, the old ones and yours, are so much about slapstick and about, you know, hitting and getting hit and getting bonked, where is the line between that kind of slapstick and cruelty?
FARRELLY: I would say it's when people are truly hurt and there's blood, and there's cuts, and there's repercussions, and there's hurt feelings. And the Stooges, it's cartoony humor. It is hitting, but there's never a cut. There's never blood. There's - you know, we learned something on "Dumb and Dumber" early in our careers.
We had a scene where Jeff Daniels throws a snowball and hits Lauren Holly in the face, and it always - it got a huge laugh immediately. But when we had initially shot it, when she came up after being hit, she had a little dab of blood that we'd put under her nose, and boom, no more laughter. It just stopped. And not only did it stop, it stopped for about 10 or 15 minutes because people were shaken by the fact that she was bleeding from this snowball, and they weren't in a good mood for a few minutes.
So we learned something. We went in, by the way, with a computer, and we fixed it and got rid of the blood, and that laughter continued for a couple minutes. People want to laugh, and they want to laugh at the dumb things that people do and, you know, somebody tripping down stairs is hilarious if they hop right up and keep walking.
If they don't, it's not funny, and that's what the Stooges do.
GROSS: And one of the things that you need to make all the hitting and slapping and bonking comedic is the sound effects. So what did you - can we talk a little bit about the sound effects for the slapping and the getting hit on the head and everything?
I know you were trying to come close to what the Stooges use in theirs, but you have such more advanced sound technology now at, you know, at your fingertips. So...
FARRELLY: Yeah, but we didn't use it.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
FARRELLY: We used the Stooge sound exactly. We literally tried to, you know - we always knew we needed sound effects like that, and at some point we tried to make those sound effects again just to clean up the sound because there was hissing and, you know, it came from a different period when sound was recorded differently and there's a lot of problems with it.
We could not duplicate the sound just the way they did it. We had a very hard time. So we had guys come in and clean up the original sound effects, and those are the ones we used. And again, going back to that snowball in the face of Lauren Holly, when we put that sound effect of that snowball hitting her in the face, we must have tried 100 different sound effects before we found the exact one that made everybody laugh. And that sound effect is - was the sound of Hank Aaron hitting his 715th homerun, the crack of the bat. That's true.
GROSS: That's really funny. If you're just joining us, my guests are Peter and Bobby Farrelly, the Farrelly brothers. Their new brother is "The Three Stooges" movie, and why don't we just take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Peter and Bobby Farrelly, the Farrelly brothers, whose films include "Dumb and Dumber," "There's Something About Mary" and "Kingpin," and of course they made the new movie "The Three Stooges."
So the three actors who play the Three Stooges are not that well known, with the exception - Sean Hayes is pretty well-known for "Will and Grace," and he not too long ago did "Promises, Promises" on Broadway. But Chris Diamantopoulos as Moe, Will Sasso as Curly. They're not that famous.
Initially you were going to have big stars - Sean Penn, Jim Carrey, Benicio Del Torro were, I think, supposed to be attached to the film. What happened?
FARRELLY: We were very specific in what we wanted from the Three Stooges, the performances, and it was - we wanted them to be very specific. We wanted Moe, Larry and Curly exactly as we remembered them. We, of course, were writing all new material, but we wanted those characters perfect.
And we didn't want somebody coming in saying I have a good take on Moe or a good take on Larry, because this isn't, you know, Batman, where you bring your own thing to it.
That turned off a lot of actors. You know, it was a lot of guys who said, well, you know, that's sort of a daunting task to come in and play something very specifically. So frankly, people were passing left and right.
But by the way, that's nothing new for us. We've always had that in our careers, starting with "Dumb and Dumber," where we had probably offered 150 or 200 people, you know, the roles before Jim Carrey jumped on.
And so we always - we never worry about it. We - in fact, when we are talking to actors, we give them the big spiel why they should do it, what it's going to do, how we're going to do it. And at the end, we say: Listen, if it's not - if your heart's not in it, you feel it's not for you, don't do it and don't worry about it, because we love you. We'll work with you any other time you want to work on something else. That's our approach.
We also had experts with us. Mike Cerrone, who wrote the screenplay with us, knows way more about the Stooges than we do. He could tell you every episode's title, and he could tell you seven minutes in what happens. He's awesome. But we also brought in other Stooge experts.
Billy West came on to help us pick the Larry character because he's - he knows how to do Larry, and he knows exactly why Larry's Larry and what the difference is and that he's from Philly and why he's a little nasal and this and that.
Chris Diamantopoulos walked in the room, and he had a suit on, and he was looking like Moe, and what we would find out later that I would never have thought of, he had a bodysuit on under his jacket. And you wouldn't think you'd need a bodysuit for Moe, but what he told us later and what really made a difference was that Moe had no neck. Moe had a very short neck. He was all shoulders, and the shoulders came right up to the neck.
And if he walked in there with his, Chris' long neck, it wouldn't look like Moe. And he showed me afterwards. I thought: Oh my God. The difference was night and day.
GROSS: And what did Will Sasso do to convince you that he was Curly? Because he certainly got the voice down and all the gestures and everything.
FARRELLY: Yeah, well, Will was, without question, the best Curly that we saw. The only reservation we had with Will, if we had any, was that he's a big guy. He's about - you know, Will Sasso is about 6'3". He's like an NFL lineman, a very big guy.
The original Stooges were all very short guys, and that was one of the reasons why they could get away with doing what they were doing is because they were always a lot smaller than everyone else. So when they were hitting each other, even the ladies in the episodes would always tower over them.
And there was something about that that would let you know that they're not going to hurt other people. They're going to do what they do amongst themselves, but they're not a threat to other people.
And a 6'3" Curly is like, uh-oh, is this guy, is he going to seem menacing? You know, there was a little bit of concern there. But the way Will Sasso played it, so gentle and so funny that you completely forget that he's a different size than the original Curly. I think he really nailed the role.
GROSS: I think he maybe was trying to make himself seem slightly smaller too, like shorter.
FARRELLY: He looks like a baby the way he dresses and his whole attitude. So you never really - he's obviously not frightening in any way. By the way, when Sean Hayes came in - now, we knew Sean Hayes, "Will and Grace," I loved "Will and Grace," and I loved Sean Hayes in "Will and Grace." He's hysterical. But I didn't see how he was going to do Larry.
But he came in, and then - and knocked it out of the park. And what I didn't know about Sean Hayes is Sean Hayes is - he's like Jim Carrey. I mean, Sean Hayes could do anything.
GROSS: So can I ask you, obviously all the actors came out of it, you know, like they didn't hurt each other. But was the biggest, like, surprise mishap on the set?
FARRELLY: You know, there wasn't any - oh, OK, I'll tell you what it was. There's a scene at the end of Episode One - this is broken up, the movie is broken up into three episodes. Each episode picks up where the last one left off, but it's done sort of like the shorts.
And at the end of Episode One, they are going off, leaving the orphanage, and they're going into the real world to try to raise money to save the orphanage. And they're on a bicycle built for three, and a truck comes by, and they throw a grappling hook onto the fender, and they're thinking they're going to get pulled into town somehow.
But in their stupidity, Curly has tied the grappling hook to the rear tire instead of the handlebars. So when the rope, you know, runs out, it just flips them backwards and they get dragged up the street.
Well, when were shooting it, we had our props guys make this bicycle built for three that was on a lever that would spin around really quickly and then go backwards for about 30 feet. And then we were going to put stunt guys in and have it cut as they're getting dragged up the street.
However, the thing turned so fast with our actors on it - Chris, Sean and Will - that it busted and fell over. And not only did they land on their sides and on their wrists, but they get dragged up the road a little bit. So that was a little frightening. But everybody came out of it OK. I think Chris Diamantopoulos had a sprained wrist, and everyone else was fine.
GROSS: Wow, because that scene - that's one of those scenes that, like, really hurts because they're getting - you know, the bicycle gets thrown on its side, and they're kind of dragged on the road.
FARRELLY: We're very careful. All our movies, you know, we get it. We're making movies and we're not making action movies, we're just making comedies. And if ever we've been - and when this has happened, a couple times where the stuntman says, hey, I have a good way of doing this, and he has a stunt that has some degree of danger, we just say forget it, don't want to do it.
I mean, if there's a possibility that somebody can get truly hurt, no interest. You know, I really don't. I'd rather do anything but that. I don't want to get at the end of a movie and have - realize that somebody was seriously injured in the making of what is just, you know, supposed to be a lot of laughs.
GROSS: OK, well, I want to thank you both so much for talking with us.
FARRELLY: Thanks a lot, Terry.
FARRELLY: Thank you, Terry, great to talk to you, thank you.
GROSS: Peter and Bobby Farrelly directed and co-wrote the new Three Stooges movie. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Our guest, Alastair Fothergill, has been working on nature documentaries for television and film for nearly 30 years. He's now the co-director, with Mark Linfield, of the new Disney nature movie "Chimpanzee" which is drawn from three years of remarkable footage taken of a group of chimps in Western Africa. Narrated by Tim Allen, the film tells the story of a baby chimp named Oscar and his changing relationship with adults in the group.
And it chronicles the group's sometimes violent conflicts with a rival group of chimpanzees. The film premiers tomorrow. Alastair Fothergill served as executive producer of the BBC Natural History unit with series producer for the series "Planet Earth," and executive producer for the series "Frozen Planet." He spoke with FRESH AIR contributor, Dave Davies.
DAVE DAVIES, BYLINE: Well, Alastair Fothergill, welcome back to FRESH AIR. You know, this film has a group of characters and, you know, a plot line as people who watch movies will be familiar with. There's conflict. There's family tragedy. Did you go in looking for a story?
ALASTAIR FOTHERGILL: Absolutely. I mean, we don't like to call this a documentary. Although it's a true story, absolutely true story, it's a movie. And I think people go to the cinema for a different experience from that which they want from a TV natural history documentary. And I think, more than anything else, they want an emotional, engaging story with key characters. And when we started this project four or five years ago, we wrote a classic 60, 70-page Hollywood script.
Disney wanted to see that before they actually gave us the green light on the movie. And we did that based on lots of years of experience working with chimpanzees and also with fantastic advice from Dr. Christophe Boesch, the scientist who'd worked with the chimpanzees that we spent most of our time filming. And of course, the chimpanzees never read the script. And so our skill as directors was to constantly say it's got to have a narrative. I mean, first of all, you need a hero.
We had a wonderful hero in a little guy called Oscar. We knew we wanted our hero to be a newborn chimpanzee, because in the first five years of their lives, 50 percent of chimpanzees die. And we knew those early years would be dramatic. And of course, baby chimpanzees are very cute. Obviously, the other star had to be his mother. And our other key star was Freddie who is the alpha male, the big guy, the big macho boss of the whole group.
The other thing that's always important in a movie is to have a baddie or baddies. And in our case, the baddies were the rival chimpanzees that lived close by. And unfortunately, the leader of that group, we could call Scar, because he had a very distinct harelip. And those were our characters. The story that finally played out and the story that we finally filmed turned out to be far more amazing than any one could possibly imagine when we started on our journey.
DAVIES: And I guess one of the things that's great about following a young chimp is that they have to learn. I mean, they learn to use tools from their parents. What were some of the things you observed there?
FOTHERGILL: I mean, tool use is fascinating, as I'm sure you know. In the '60s, Jane Goodall, for the first time, saw chimpanzees using tools. And at that time, it was a revolutionary discovery. I mean, Professor Louis Leakey, who was her mentor, said at that stage, we now have to redefine the meaning of the word tool, or possibly, the meaning of the word mankind, because at that stage we were known, you know, as man, the toolmaker.
The interesting thing about Christophe Boesch's group of chimpanzees in West Africa, is they use an amazing range of tools, over 50 different tools for different tasks. And the most dramatic of those is probably rock and stone hammers that they use to crack nuts. They have a nut there, a number of different types of nut, but these have very, very hard shells. And in order to crack into the lovely, nutritious material within the nut, these chimps have learned to create anvils, literal anvils.
In the roots of the trees, they hollow out little sort of holes, really, into which they put the nuts and then they use these stone and wooden hammers to crack the nuts. It's an extraordinary, dexterous process. An experienced adult will crack many nuts in a minute. But interestingly, it takes over seven years for the young chimps to learn. And it's very, very funny and a lovely part of our movie where we film our little guy Oscar, who's our star, desperately trying to copy his mother cracking nuts.
And he understands the process, but he doesn't have the dexterity, or the experience or the skills. And he goes on, and on, and on, and on, literally, for over half an hour cracking away, trying to crack, anyway, before he finally gets himself some nut flesh.
DAVIES: And they actually carry some of these tools with them. It's not just picking up something you find.
FOTHERGILL: No. What's extraordinary is that these nut trees are in groves in the forest, and the only fruit at certain times of the year. And the stone hammers, which are particularly precious, stone is very rare in rainforests. And it's so rare that the stone hammers, which are particularly important to crack, a large or very hard nut, called a Panda nut, the chimps will carry these stones with them for a long time, through the forest, looking for new Panda nuts. And more than anything else, making sure that none of the other chimps nick their favorite tool.
DAVIES: One of the more fascinating scenes in the film is where this group of chimps hunts for monkeys. I mean, you mentioned that we now know that chimps will kill and eat monkeys when they can catch them. Do you want to explain how they managed this hunt and how hard it was to get on film?
FOTHERGILL: Very, very hard to get on film, because obviously, a lot of it's taking place high up in the canopy and we were glimpsing moments, largely down from on the forest floor. In the Ivory Coast in West Africa, the trees are very tall and the chimps have a problem in that they weigh substantially more than the Colobus monkeys that they like to hunt. And so an intelligent monkey would go to the end of a thin branch, a branch just capable of carrying its weight and say, come here and we'll both die.
And then, the chimps are bright enough to realize that they can't go to the end of the branch. So what the chimps do, and this is really, really interesting, is they hunt in a highly organized way, where different - it's the males that do it - take different roles. So typically, for instance, what they will do is they'll send what they call blockers up. These are chimps that go up into the canopy and make themselves very, very obvious.
And their job, really, is to close off escape routes for the Colobus monkeys. Now, another one called the ambusher who will be the chimp that will finally grab the monkey if they're successful, goes up ahead and hides just below the canopy so the monkeys don't know where he is. And effectively, they've set a trap. And once they're all in position, the last male comes in and he's the driver. And he'll come up and very obviously chase the monkeys into this trap.
And they'll avoid the blockers and run straight, they hope - the chimps hope - into the arms of the ambusher. And when the ambusher grabs the monkey, it's extraordinary. The whole of the chimp group scream with excitement. It's one of the most extraordinary bloodcurdling sounds I've ever heard in nature. But then, once they bring the Colobus down to the ground, they share it out in a very, very interesting way, whereby those who had taken part in the hunt get the lion's share.
And then some of the females are given meat ,and it's thought that possibly that is favors between the males and the females. And it's a very organized hunt. But what's interesting about it is that if you look at socially hunting animals, wolves, killer whales, animals like that that hunt in packs, there's very rarely role play. They all hunt together. It's not organized. It's not that intelligent.
But chimpanzee hunts, certainly in the Ivory Coast in West Africa, are highly organized and highly intelligent. And in a sense, they give us a real sort of a reminder or sort of a picture, really, of possibly what our own ancestors might have been like.
DAVIES: In the three years that the team was filming these chimpanzees, were there any new behaviors observed, things that people just hadn't seen before?
FOTHERGILL: I think the most amazing thing happened towards the end of the film. Our star, Oscar, when he was about three-years-old, his mother Isha was killed by a leopard. And that should have been a death sentence for little Oscar. And a three-year-old chimpanzee is totally dependent on his mother. And then, something happened which was completely extraordinary. The alpha male, Freddie, literally adopted Oscar.
Now, in 30 years of studying chimpanzees in the Thai forests, Professor Boesch and his fellow researchers have never seen anything quite like that. They've seen brothers and sisters adopt younger siblings, but for the alpha male, the big macho guy, the guy whose job is to defend the whole group to basically discover a, sort of, I don't know, soft almost feminine side to his character was amazing.
I mean, he allowed the little guy to ride on his back, which normally only female chimpanzees do. He cracked nuts for him and shared his food, just as only a mother normally does. And he even let this tiny little guy sleep in his arms. And that's at the final images of our movie are of this big bruiser, this great big alpha male sleeping quietly on the forest floor and wrapped in his arms, little tiny Oscar.
It was scientifically amazing. And for us, as filmmakers, it was a storyline made in heaven, to be honest.
DAVIES: We're speaking with Alastair Fothergill. He co-directed the new Disney nature film, "Chimpanzee." We'll talk more after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DAVIES: If you're just joining us, we're speaking with director Alastair Fothergill. He co-directed the new Disney nature film, "Chimpanzee" with Mark Linfield. Was there any concern that these chimps, since they were accustomed to human company, might behave differently than wild chimps?
FOTHERGILL: No. They are completely wild chimps. It's very interesting. They ignore you entirely. I mean, we're very careful. I mean, we and the researchers always wore green clothing. We're always very respectful. We never ate around the chimps and we actually always kept seven meters away, and always wore face masks, because one of the issues of working with chimpanzees is because they are our closest relations, it is very easy for them to catch human diseases.
And by keeping seven meters away, by wearing a sort of, you know, an operating face mask, we were doing our very best to minimize the chances of transmission of any diseases.
DAVIES: It was dark under the forest canopy and darkness is the enemy of good photography. How did you shoot this?
FOTHERGILL: We shot it all on the very latest and the very best high definition digital cameras. To be honest, we probably couldn't have even made this movie five years ago, because obviously the big screen requires very high quality images. And traditionally, that was only produced by 35 mil-film, which is big, heavy film, big heavy cameras, which we could never have carried through the forest.
And one of the other benefits of the latest high definition digital cameras, is they're also very sensitive in low light and have a very good, what we call, dynamic range. They can deal from dark, dark to bright white. Because the real challenge under the canopy is not only that it's dark and obviously chimpanzees themselves are dark, but here and there, you'll get these beams of bright light through breaks in the canopy that'll light up the forest floor.
And it's a nightmare for a camera to be able to handle bright spots of sunlight and dark eyes of chimpanzees and having a, what we call, a dynamic range, the ability to handle the brightest to the darkest in one shot is very, very rare.
DAVIES: There are some scenes at the end of this film, with the credits, of the crew and some of the things they went through. And I have to say, they're really fascinating in their own way. Do you want to just talk a little bit about some of the difficulties they faced?
FOTHERGILL: I think the biggest challenge was just carrying the camera day after day after day. I mean, one of our cameramen, Bill Wallowa(ph) has worked with Jane Goodall in the Jane Goodall Institute in Tanzania for many, many, many, many years. Bill is built, in many ways, like a chimpanzee. He's extraordinarily tough. But why he was particularly useful and particularly talented and particularly suited, rather, for our film was that Bill understands chimpanzees like, sort of, no one else really.
And I remember working with him once and we were going along following, patrolling chimps and suddenly there was a distant all and Bill just ran. He just ran. He disappeared and I desperately ran after him trying to keep up with him and I thought, where are you going? Where are you going? And basically, Bill had predicted where the interaction would happen.
He knew what was about to happen. He got ahead. And when you're trying to film these group interactions, you need to get ahead. And our other cameraman, Martyn Colbeck, his challenge was we really wanted to keep the camera on the tripod for a lot of the time. We wanted to do very beautiful images whenever the chimps stopped, such that the audience never felt there was a sense of camera-work.
You know, we could've shot a lot of this film on the shoulder, with the camera on the shoulder, and we did for the interactions, you know, because it was happening so fast. But other times, whenever we could slow the action down, we really would because we didn't want the camera to get between the audience and being there. And one of the wonderful things, one of the most satisfying things about making this film is every night we'd come back - and because there was digital images, we could play them back to people.
And the researchers who'd spent years of their lives with those chimpanzees, were seeing things on our screen, through our cameras, that they'd never seen through their own eyes.
DAVIES: Can you think of something that was new to them when they saw it on film?
FOTHERGILL: Do you know, little things like scars on the faces, and because our lenses were so powerful they never get that close to the chimps, because they are very careful. You know, they don't want to get closer than seven meters. And just once you've got the, you know, on a big screen the face of chimpanzee, it's like taking one of those really powerful makeup mirrors and having a close up look yourself at your own face. It can be very revealing, rather.
DAVIES: In terms of difficulties, I have to ask you about the driver ants, because as I understand it, your team built an encampment closer to the chimps than roads would be and did it in such a way so that it blended into the natural setting, which meant that creatures, including ants, could find their way in. Right?
FOTHERGILL: Absolutely. I mean the location on the Ivory Coast - from the capital city Abidjan, it was a 10 hour drive on a tarmac road, another four hour drive on a dirt road, and then a walk of about an hour into the forest. Now, Christophe Boesch already had a research camp there, but there wasn't enough room. It was very small. It was just enough for his small team.
We built our own camp right in the middle and, yes, it was basically designed to let the animals come through. It was basically - it was a roof over the forest, really. And we had lots of visitors. We had gaboon vipers, one of the most poisonous snakes in the world. We had bees, we had scorpions, we had whip scorpions, and on occasion driver ants or safari ants, which really have to be seen to be believed, actually.
These are social ants and where literally millions of these ants go on the move together. When you see them it looks like a stream of black, moving, moving, moving. And they'll eat anything, literally anything, in their way. And what we had to do with our camp is dig a shallow trench all the way around the hut and fill it with diesel fuel. And that was the only way that we could reliably ensure that the ants didn't come in and cause problems for us.
DAVIES: You know, it's interesting that as you filmed such care was taken not to disturb their natural setting, not to interfere with them in any way, not to influence their behavior, to let them be the wild chimps that they are. And yet the film, as it's presented, in some ways makes them more human-like.
I mean they are given human names and there's a narration which, sort of, brings humor and music in a way - at times they appear to be kind of, you know, dancing with a song.
DAVIES: And I wonder, is there a tradeoff there. I mean do you feel, in some ways, like in order to get a broader audience and develop the kind of appreciation for these animals and the preservation of their habitat that's so important, you do things that maybe as a naturalist you wouldn't want to do?
FOTHERGILL: To a certain extent. I mean, you know, we are making a movie for families. We want children, everybody to go, and the cinema is a very competitive world. And, you know, this movie in the States will go out in 1,500 cinemas and it'll compete against enormously competitive movies. And we don't want natural history movies to be, you know, sort of small audience documentaries.
We want them to have a massive appeal. That said, it's really important that we're really true to nature, and I'm very proud of the fact that the behavior and the factual information that comes in "Chimpanzee" is absolutely right. Yes, we play for the humor. Yes, we've chosen Tim Allen for the narration here in the States, because, you know, he gives it a great humor. But that's what it says, this is not a documentary.
I think that's what gives it a feeling of being a movie and a cinema experience. And I don't want it in any way to feel didactic. So I make no apologies for making it as accessible as possible.
DAVIES: Well, Alastair Fothergill, it's been really interesting. Thanks so much for speaking with us.
FOTHERGILL: Thank you very much for your interest.
GROSS: Alastair Fothergill co-directed the new Disneynature movie "Chimpanzee." He spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies. Coming up, music critic Milo Miles reviews two collections of bachata - music from the Dominican Republic. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
TERRY GROSS, HOST: During the past 20 years, music from the Dominican Republic known as bachata has risen from the backcountry to take its place next to salsa in concert halls. Music critic Milo Miles reviews two new collections that trace bachata's humble beginnings and showcase its continuing appeal.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing in Spanish language)
MILO MILES: A superb new collection of vintage bachata singles is titled "Bachata Roja: Amor y Amrague," and indeed, the music itself was originally called amargue - bitterness - for its slow tempo laments about broken hearts and lonely nights.
First recorded at the start of the 1960s, early bachata functioned much like weepy country and western music in America, popular with Dominican truck drivers and in rural bars. But there was always a restless quality in the style, and soon it moved beyond its roots in Cuban son and bolero ballads to incorporate more dance rhythms.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing in Spanish language)
MILES: The "Bachata Roja" anthology includes songs up to the '80s, but no matter the date, the selections maintain a potent simplicity and directness, reflecting the downtrodden or celebratory sound of plain lives. One advantage of this lack of clutter is that a few added elements - sweet harmony voices, extra percussion or a splash of horn - makes tracks jump out, as is the case with Ramon Cordero's "El pajarito."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EL PAJARITO")
RAMON CORDERO: (Singing in Spanish)
MILES: Since the '80s, bachata has blossomed in a manner not unlike salsa in the '70s. It is now a popular, established style throughout the Caribbean and in international capitals like New York. This has not been an entirely beneficial development for the music. Like country music when it went mainstream in the modern era, big-time bachata became facile and larded with glossy sounds. The hit group Aventura too often suggests the latest incarnation of a boy band with some exotic beats and Spanish lyrics.
In a return to the roots of the music, guitarist Joan Soriano has taken the next step and is establishing himself as a bachata neo-traditionalist. He plays amplified guitar and understands the sonic possibilities of the modern instrument. While his accompaniment is never looming and overblown, it's not folkie-stark, either.
Even so, until now, his virtuosity has made him sound rather slick, more studio-cat than his street-corner predecessors. With the new "La Familia Soriano," he comes halfway and ends up on the front porch with three singing siblings, brother Fernando and sisters Nelly and Griselda. The comfortable tone of "La Familia Soriano" and the rotating vocal features help Joan Soriano's skills on the six-string glisten without being flashy. He has an appealing style, at once declarative and quietly poetic.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA FAMILIA SORIANO")
MILES: But the unquestioned winner on the album is Joan's duet with Griselda, which delivers all the ease and warmth possible for people who grew up singing together. It turns out the tradition of playing in a musical family is good for the tradition of bachata itself.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
JOAN SORIANO: (Singing in Spanish)
GRISELDA SORIANO: (Singing in Spanish)
SORIANO: (Singing in Spanish)
SORIANO: (Singing in Spanish)
MILES: Old or new, bachata is here to stay. My feeling is that the strength of the roots will outlast the big stars in the shiny suits.
GROSS: Milo Miles lives in Boston. You can see a video of bachata dance moves on our website freshair.npr.org where you can also download podcasts of our show. And you can follow us on Twitter at nprfreshair and on Tumblr on nprfreshair.tumblr.com.
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