What sort of film did you set out to make?
For Men in Black III, director Barry Sonnenfeld (Wild Wild West, Get Shorty) wanted to make a film that was reminiscent of the first two, but more action- and relationship-based than the jokes from Men in Black II.
I wanted to make a film that was reminiscent of the first two in terms of its character-based relationships, but I didn't want to make another movie that was just a different caper. I wanted to do one that kind of reinvented what we were doing, and the lesson we learned from Men in Black II
is that the real strength of these movies, although they maybe get filed in the comedy category at your video store, is in the relationships rather than all the comedy. So Men in Black III
is much more action- and relationship-based than all the jokes of II
Every film has its challenges, and this one was definitely the enormity of it all.
—Director Barry Sonnenfeld
You filmed in locations around New York. How tough was that logistically?
It wasn't easy. We shot entirely in New York, and that was mainly for the tax breaks and credits. Although we have quite a lot of exterior scenes, I'd say that 80% of it was shot on stages. Now some of that is exterior, but it's shot on a bluescreen stage. For instance, the last eight minutes, approximately,
of the film take place at Cape Canaveral in 1969 on the launch tower, just as Apollo 11
is about to lift off to the moon. Now the audience will see that as a completely
exterior scene, but we shot it all exclusively on the stage. And there's another scene where Josh Brolin, who plays Agent K in 1969—the same role that Tommy Lee Jones is playing in 2012—is riding a monocycle, along with Will Smith on one, through the streets of New York, and that will also look exterior because the plates are exterior. And we also used additional digital plates, but we shot on the stage. So in terms of the actual shooting, most of it was done on stages all over New York. We had an armory in Brooklyn where we built our 2012 Men in Black
headquarters and our 1969 headquarters. We also used the Steiner stages where we built several huge sets, including the Chrysler Building roof and an opening prison scene. Then we were also at Kaufman Astoria, where we shot the whole sequence with the July 16, 1969 Apollo 11
What were the main technical challenges?
There were several. The first big one was when we decided to make the film in 3D. So then I had to decide on what method to use. There are various 3D rigs out there, and Bill Pope and I discussed them all. He was an NYU student the same time I was and, in fact, he shot my thesis film at NYU graduate film school. So we shot a lot of 3D tests with a lot of different rigs and also shot the exact same shots in 2D and then converted them to 3D, and both of us felt that based on the rigs, the technology and the way I shoot, the best way to tackle the 3D was to convert. And I think when audiences see it, they may feel it's the best-looking 3D film they've ever seen—although Hugo
was pretty damn good!
You never discussed 3D with Jim Cameron?
Here's the thing—directors see different ways, and I think, for Jim, it was the right decision to shoot Avatar
with 3D rigs. But, for me, because I use such wide lenses and therefore require the eyeline to be very close to the camera, and because the rigs are so wide and the matte box is so wide, you just can't get the camera close enough and the actors close enough to the eyeline. It's very strange. In addition, unlike Jim, when you're shooting comedies, you want a certain pace and momentum on the set, and 3D is a pace- and momentum-killer. And, finally—and what I think will be very unique about Men in Black III
in its 3D-ness—is that most movies put their convergence at the screen, and most of the 3D is behind the screen. But what you'll see in Men in Black III
is a lot more of the 3D—and even the actors—in front of the screen. Not that it gives you a headache, and it's not like a gag. But as I use wide lenses, it allows me to have the actors slightly in front of the screen and the audience sort of feels they're in the scene with the actors that way. And this is very specific to wide-angle lenses.