Joe Alves Interview
This page is a companion to our interview with Joe Alves. Here you can find more information about the films and the people Joe mentions, plus we have a few screen shots from some of the scenes we talk about. The time codes mentioned by the items below will correspond with the time in the interview.
Joe as featured in the documentary The Shark Is Still Working
The Nature of Production Design
0.06.43: Fire Down Below - Locations
The script for Fire Down Below called for a very specific location - An isolated mining community.
0.09.57: Drop Zone - Locations and Sets
For Drop Zone Joe suggested to director John Badham that the aerial sequences and the drop zones were moved to the Florida Keys, to take advantage of the colorful land, instead of shooting at actual drop zone sites, which were located in a fairly dull desert floor environment.
The small airfield and the skydiver school were built from scratch. The crew dubbed the set Alvesville.
Notice that the building is raised up on stilts...
...Which pays off in the interior shots, where the beautiful landscape is much more visible.
0.15.25: Fire Down Below - Sets
Almost all the sets for this Steven Seagal film were built on location.
This church is a fully constructed building, not just a facade. Notice the beautiful reflection in the water. The pond is artificial and was created for the exact purpose of obtaining this shot.
Same goes for this house, which was built on this exact mountain top, to take advantage of the beautiful background.
0.16.15: Jaws - Storyboards
Joe had a hand in creating the exhilarating third act of Jaws. He storyboarded every shot in the sequence and the film stays very close to his drawings.
0.18.55: Film commissions
A film commission is a local organization whose sole purpose is to attract film productions to the area. They provide support and serve as liaison between local officials and the production team.
The idea is that while the film company is in town they will spend their money on local businesses and hire local talent to work both in front of the camera and behind the scenes.
0.26.26: Two degrees of Helen Mirren
Joe namedrops a few people here, which deserves an elaboration.
0.27.26: Freejack - A Big Mess
Freejack - This 1992 science fiction movie turned out to be somewhat of a mess. Emilio Estevez and Rene Russo starred, Geoff Murphy directed, it was written by Ronald Shusett and Steven Pressfield, and executive produced by, among others, James G. Robinson.
Linda Fiorentino was originally cast in the role of Estevez's love interest, but she was fired after a week of shooting. On a side note Fiorentino has been called impossible to work with, by more than one of her directors.
Linda Fiorentino in Men in Black
0.28.57: Freejack - Size Matters
When Fiorentino left the production, Rene Russo was hired to replace her. Only one problem: She's about twenty feet taller than Estevez, a fact the production tried unsuccessfully to hide (this may not look that bad in these shots, but keep in mind that this happens through the ENTIRE film):
Walking and talking. Russo is clearly taller than Estevez.
Cut to close-up and suddenly Estevez is the tall one.
0.29.39: Freejack - Thinking Outside the Box
This is a good example of inventive production design. The script called for Emilio Estevez's character to jump into a river and emerge at a broken down waterfront. Rather than go to the water, the production shot this scene at a warehouse, and Joe created the illusion of a river by filling a loading dock with water.
0.29.39: Freejack - Shooting 2nd Unit
Joe also served as 2nd Unit Director on the film and was, among other things, responsible for the racing sequences.
0.31.10: Torn Curtain - Matte Painted Sequence
Early in his career Joe worked as assistant art director for Alfred Hitchcock. On Torn Curtain, special effects genius Albert Whitlock created a series of matte painting shots, because filming in the actual Berlin Museum was impossible. Only partial sets were constructed for the sequence.
This shot is particularly impressive:
Original plate: Only a fraction of the set was constructed.
Matte painting: Albert Whitlock painted the rest of the shot, carefully matching the patterns on the floor.
Final shot: Paul Newman walks through the seamless shot.
Other shots from the sequence:
Working for the talented, but difficult Walther Hill frustrated Joe to no end. Especially when Hill decided to get original during this sequence showing Geronimo surrendering, and NOT shoot a master shot of the GIGANTIC fort Joe had built directly behind Gene Hackman's Gen. George Crook.
Geronimo rides to meet Gen. George Crook in front of several hundred soldiers.
Geronimo rides closer to the General...
Only then do we get a reverse shot, but at this point we're so close, the fort is just an out-of-focus brown background.
0.35.17: Night Gallery
Rod Serling created Night Gallery, an anthology series, which employed a lot of young directors who would later go on to bigger things, including John Badham, Jeannot Szwarc and even a young Steven Spielberg.
0.36.13: Jaws - Directing
Joe directed a couple of small sequences for Jaws, including this one:
0.37.13: Jaws 2 - Directing
Serving as both production designer, 2nd unit director and associate producer, Joe had his hands full on Jaws 2.
Among the sequences he directed was the climactic helicopter scene:
0.38.52: Missing out on 1941
0.40.05: Jaws 2 - Production design
The location for this lighthouse was found during the production of the first Jaws film. Joe figured this would be an excellent location if they ever did a sequel.
Joe also built this completely artificial island for the film.
0.40.59: Abandoned project - The Weatherman
In this section Joe talks about several abandoned projects, including The Weatherman - A science fiction movie about satellites controlling the weather. Clint Eastwood was supposed to star. The project never materialized.
0.41.24: Abandoned project - Altered States
Joe was briefly involved in Altered States, back when Arthur Penn held the reins, unfortunately Penn left the film. Joe had nothing to do with the final product.
0.41.36: Abandoned project - Formula 1
As the title indicates Formula 1 was a racing film, which was supposed to star James Brolin.
0.44.03: Abandoned project - Adventure One
0.45.51: Abandoned project - The Ninja
Based on the 1980 novel by Eric Van Lustbader, The Ninja was lined up to big a big event movie, with director Irvin Kershner at the helm. Joe worked ten months designing and scouting locations, but eventually the money fell through.
0.47.59: Abandoned project - Conan
In the early stages of development on Conan the Barbarian the script was being written by Oliver Stone, who was supposed to co-direct with Joe. When Stone left, the project it was temporarily shut down, and re-emerged with John Milius writing and directing.
Directing Jaws 3
0.50.19: Saving Jaws 3
Universal Vice President Verna Fields - Oscar winning editor of the first film - wasn't happy about the direction the third film had taken. Producers David Brown and Richard D. Zanuck, who didn't really want to do another Jaws had taken the concept in a new direction. They planned to turn the franchise into an abomination, by doing a film called Jaws 3 People 0 - a spoof film lampooning the production of the first film. Thankfully this idea was abandoned.
At this point producer Alan Landsburg bought the sequel rights to Jaws. When Joe visited Verna Fields she suggested that he looked into this project. Eventually Joe was hired to direct the Jaws 3-D, from a script by writer Richard Matheson.
1.01.07: Casting Jaws 3
The always likeable Dennis Quaid was among the first actors hired for the film, at Landsburgs insistence. Louis Gossett Jr. brought some star power to the proceedings, and young bubbly newcomer Lea Thompson won the admiration of many young boys in her feature film debut.
Dennis Quaid and John Putch as Mike and Sean Brody, sons of Chief Brody, Roy Scheider's character from the first two films.
Louis Gossett Jr. as Calvin Bouchard, Financial backer of the theme park.
Lea Thompson as Kelly Ann Bukowski, the naughty little minx, who finally persuades Sean Brody to go into the water.
1.02.25: Kate Capshaw
1.05.50: Critic attack scene
A critic attacked this scene in particular, where several waterskiers fall simultaneously.
1.07.50: Sinbad in CGI
Sinbad: Beyond the Veil of Mists was a computer animated film, produced in India, and one of the first to utilize the Motion Capture technique.
Though the final film ended up somewhat lacking, Joe enjoyed the process of doing an animated film.
1.13.35: PC and the Web
Joe was heavily involved in the pre-production on PC and the Web. His art department produced more than 3000 sketches and a complete pre-visualization version of the film. Eventually the production ran out of money, and the film was never completed.
1.24.11: Signing off
For more information about Joe's most famous films, check out the feature length documentaries on the Special Editions of Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Note that Joe prefers the original theatrical version of Close Encounters.
The special editions of Close Enocunters and Jaws.
Kurt Russel as Snake Plissken
And that about does it. Thanks for reading this page and for listening to the interview with Joe Alves.
Double Ds Definitive DVD podcast
Dennis Rosenfeld and David Bjerre