Interview: Producer and Director Frank Marshall
With its number one theatrical box office debut, Eight Below surprised analysts and won fans with an incredible story of the survival of sled dogs in the wilderness of Antarctica. The classic adventure movie premieres on DVD from Walt Disney Home Entertainment with an optional director's commentary by Hollywood producer and director Frank Marshall (Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Sixth Sense, The Bourne Identity), who talked with Box Office Mojo about making the motion picture and about making it in Tinseltown.

Box Office Mojo: The last movie you directed was Congo in 1995. What was it about Eight Below that made you want to direct a movie again?

Frank Marshall: It just hit on all cylinders for me. I love dogs. I love the outdoors. I love a movie that has an interesting story—a story of survival—that's also a challenge to make. Maybe it's the producer side to me but I saw this as an exciting challenge because I knew we couldn't go to Antarctica. One of the interesting things about making movies is that we're like magicians—it's smoke and mirrors—we're taking people to another place. I also didn't want to do [another] Snow Dogs, which looks like it was shot in Mammoth [Lakes, a Los Angeles-area ski resort], with a lot of close-ups. The style of the movie was to have the Antarctic landscape become a character. I wanted big, wide shots. I didn't want to cheat with the location or the dogs. I didn't want the dogs winking and I didn't want [computer-generated dogs]. I wanted real dog behavior. Those two elements attracted me. You don't have to be cute. Audiences are smart—you can't talk down to people—they get it. There are sections in this movie, 12 or 15 minutes, with no dialog, no narrator, no subtitles—you're getting it because you're watching and hearing and feeling. It's what a movie should do. It has to be moving and entertaining.

Box Office Mojo: Why did you let so much time pass between directing projects?

Frank Marshall: Well, I do enjoy producing—it's a lot easier than directing—and I wanted to be around for my kids. There wasn't really a project that inspired me. I'm fortunate enough that I don't have to do a movie. I have to really love it and be passionate about it. I had The Sixth Sense, then Seabiscuit, then The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy—and I was soaking up what other directors were doing, so it was the right time.

Box Office Mojo: What is the true story of Eight Below?

Frank Marshall: There were 16 dogs. Only two made it. But I didn't think dogs littered across Antarctica was going to work. Actually, there were three dogs that died in the first version [of the script]. I really thought Dave DiGilio's script was a great story. It had action, it had a little bit of humor, but it was moving—it had great opportunities for outdoor shots.

Box Office Mojo: What was the production's budget?

Frank Marshall: Around $40 million, which is huge for this kind of movie.

Box Office Mojo: Did you consciously set out to make a classic adventure?

Frank Marshall: Yes. I talked with [director of photography] Don Burgess about the look, the pace and style of the movie. There are subtle things. We used longer 📷 lenses when we were shooting the dogs, so it had a documentary feel.

Box Office Mojo: Did it surprise you that Eight Below did that well at the box office?

Frank Marshall: Yes. You get ready for the worst—it's not going to do well, the reviews aren't going to be good—but I knew I made the movie for everyone.

Box Office Mojo: Is there more the artist can do to promote a movie?

Frank Marshall: Absolutely. I truly believe that works—going out and believing in your movie, getting out and talking about it. For the first Bourne, I took Matt Damon to Boise [Idaho], to Oklahoma City, to Atlanta. When you go to Boise, it's a big deal to come with a movie that's not out yet—and you bring Matt Damon. There was huge attention—a double truck article in Us magazine. We created our own publicity that broke us out of the box. To some extent, I did that with Eight Below.

Box Office Mojo: Do you regard Eight Below as a success?

Frank Marshall: Yes. We're at $120 million worldwide. Especially that first weekend when we were supposed to be third. I love it when we beat the tracking. The studio did prepare me that kids' movies don't get good reviews. But I have always believed in the movie. I knew it worked. There are people who look at numbers and tracking—and they don't look at the movie. It was a nice surprise to the studio because they didn't expect it. I have a theory: because they didn't expect the movie to do as well as it did, they booked The Shaggy Dog too close. That's the problem with scheduling the release date before you see the movie. When you look at the numbers, if we had stayed in theaters and not had a competing dog movie—though it's totally different—I think we would have hit $100 million [in domestic business].

Box Office Mojo: Is the picture's title the word or the number Eight?

Frank Marshall: It's the word "eight." It was changed because the title wasn't sticking. We had to change the original title from Antarctica.

Box Office Mojo: What guides you as a producer?

Frank Marshall: I like to be the support system. I like to give the director what he wants and help him realize his vision. I like working with the director, rather than be the guy who comes in and says, 'we don't have the money here,' which is kind of a style that some producers have—they're in there just for the fiscal responsibilities. Because I worked so closely with [director] Peter [Bogdanovich] and [his ex-wife and collaborator] Polly [Platt], it was always about getting it right. I have this rule: never show them anything you know you can't get. What that translates into is understanding the artistic side. Peter is incredible. He was so loyal to me. He fought to get me [hired as location manager] on The Last Picture Show. He included me in the creative process. We would see something and then find out it was $10,000 a day to shoot there and it would be my job to find another place as good.

Box Office Mojo: Your affiliation with Mr. Bogdanovich continued—?

Frank Marshall: —until Noises Off. He's a wonderful director. He's eccentric, but he's wonderful. He's always on budget and he's great with actors.

Box Office Mojo: You worked with him on At Long Last Love. What are the lessons of that box office disappointment?

Frank Marshall: When you hear the pitch, you'll see what happened. It was 1975 and we were going to take ten Cole Porter songs, write a story around them, and do a modern version of an old musical—with Burt Reynolds—it sounds like it could work. What was wrong with the theory was that people would want to see non-musical people singing and dancing. Peter's theory was that what would make this attractive was that normal people—not Judy Garland and Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers—were breaking into song and dance. But people couldn't make that leap. It looks great but it doesn't work.

Box Office Mojo: You also worked with him on Paper Moon, Nickelodeon—?

Frank Marshall: —and Targets, What's Up, Doc?, The Last Picture Show and Daisy Miller.

Box Office Mojo: How do you explain your long career association with him?

Frank Marshall: I was at UCLA and I had taken a couple of film classes—I started as an engineering major but I was majoring in majoring—I just loved math. My dad [Hollywood composer Jack Marshall] wanted me to have something to fall back on but I didn't shine to engineering. It was the Sixties, so it was wild. I took some theater arts classes, I did some stage stuff, and I loved entertaining. I loved to build sets on stage, I loved to act—whatever that process was, that family, that camaraderie, when that curtain went up, and people enjoyed it, I wanted to be part of it somehow. But in the winter of 1967, while at UCLA, I went to a party and there was a guy in the corner sort of holding court and it was Peter [Bogdanovich]. We started chatting and he was great. He was writing for Esquire [magazine] at that time—doing a piece on John Ford—and he was real excited about wanting to be a director. He was very impressive and he liked my enthusiasm. Later, I went out to his Saticoy Productions in the Valley. What I discovered was that he knew all the stuff about directing and scripts but he didn't know how to rent a car, book a stage, make a tuna fish sandwich or water the lawn. Since they were located in the Valley, I knew where everything was and I just started doing stuff every day on [Targets]. While I didn't know it then, it couldn't have been a better introduction to making movies. I was able to do everything. I shot some of it, I acted in it, I did locations, I rented cars, I built sets, I was an electrician, I was a prop man, I talked my dad's friends into giving us furniture—it was solving the puzzle and making it all work and we shot it in 22 days. Life was good. We had all these [rental] cars and I got the blue Corvette Stingray. There I am, 21 years old, and I've got a Stingray for two months. As I was driving over the hill from the Valley to Westwood, the sun was coming up, I'd been working all night and I was wide awake and happy. I thought 'if I can find a way to do this, this is what I want to do—this is the way it should be.'

Box Office Mojo: Any plans to work with him in the future?

Frank Marshall: Actually, we're re-cutting and updating the John Ford documentary. We've done new interviews with Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, Walter Hill and others. It's really exciting. It will air on Turner Classic Movies [this October]. Ford is so important to my history in the business. We're also working with Showtime on finishing Orson Welles' last movie, The Other Side of the Wind, which I worked on in the 1970s. We have a script. We shot it all—I worked on it for over five years—but we never put it together. Showtime has been incredibly supportive. I'm producing what will be the final movie that Orson directed.

Box Office Mojo: What else do you have in store?

Frank Marshall: The Bourne Ultimatum, Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Julian Schnabel's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. The Talisman is not on the front burner. The next thing I want to direct is a movie about Lance Armstrong, which is going to be next year. I'm a big sports fan. It's his extraordinary journey—there's such a natural arc there: a chip on the shoulder cocky youngster gets sick and figures out what life's about and then becomes this incredible champion. And he is this incredible person. I seem to be attracted to these stories about people overcoming impossible odds.

Box Office Mojo: Any news on a new Indiana Jones picture?

Frank Marshall: No.

Box Office Mojo: Jurassic Park 4?

Frank Marshall: That's starting to percolate. Still working on that script.

Box Office Mojo: In general, How do you find working in today's Hollywood?

Frank Marshall: I've been fortunate in that, for most of my career, I've worked within the studio system and I learned how to maneuver. I find it very comfortable. You have to give up some things, but you've got to fight for what you believe in. It's complicated because the studios have so many masters to please. You've got to fight for your own movie.

Box Office Mojo: The classic studio system had tremendous advantages, many of which are lost today—?

Frank Marshall: I agree. It's diluted now. We have so many people in middle management that have never been on a set and don't know how a movie is made. It all happens so fast now. It's one of the things I worry about. I had to do the [Eight Below] DVD while I was doing the movie. It was exhausting.

Box Office Mojo: Who determines the DVD content?

Frank Marshall: The studio. There's a DVD department now.

Box Office Mojo: How much creative autonomy do you have on the DVD?

Frank Marshall: As much as I can. I like to be in on these decisions. I'm consulted. For me, it's a collaboration. I insist on being involved in the foreign dubs—which is something I learned way back while working with George Lucas on Indiana Jones. There was a time when they mixed [a movie] and would play the foreign dialog way up, so I like to supervise the mix. I also like to pick my own composer.

Box Office Mojo: Paul Walker talks on the DVD commentary about how the generator slid down the mountain. What happened?

Frank Marshall: One morning, we arrived in the troop carrier used to transport the crew—it was used in the last part of the movie—and one of the big, portable generators had slid down the slope overnight and landed right in this valley where we were going to be looking. It was a problem. We had no power and this giant generator was in the [way of the] shot. But we had a backup generator [and shot around it]. It became a joke among the actors and crew that, in the middle of Antarctica, they could say, "Oh, let's just camp here, we can plug in and watch TV and make a hot cup of coffee!"

Box Office Mojo: Is Mount Melbourne real?

Frank Marshall: Mount Melbourne is a real mountain in Antarctica. What you see in the movie is not it. It's a made-up mountain that I picked from three peaks.

Box Office Mojo: Who was your favorite dog?

Frank Marshall: I have two favorite dogs. Shadow is a beautiful malamute—beautiful coat, great face, just lovable—that I would like to have. As an actor, Max [the pup]—and Maya, just from being able to lie there.

Box Office Mojo: What an accomplishment to work with those dogs—how did you do it?

Frank Marshall: I knew what I was up against, so I was looking forward to it. I had to figure out shooting around the trainers—we shot for four weeks with just the dogs before we brought the actors up—and how to block the scenes like a regular human scene. Rather than have a shot of a dog looking out and then a close-up of another dog looking out, I would pan and connect them, which is what you do with humans. It became more natural that way. There's a particular scene near the end where Maya's lying there and Max comes over and puts his head on her—that was all Max. It was as if he knew he was supposed to come over and comfort her—he was acting. He was supposed to lie down next to her and instead he went over and lied down on her. There's a moment where I swear Max is thinking—I know he's acting—but after he's come off the whale, he finds Maya, he looks up and you see him thinking. Then there's Shorty, who was my nemesis. He never did what he was supposed to do. All four dogs that played Shorty were totally uncontrollable. There were three or four shots at the end when they're all supposedly walking—one of the hardest things to get them to do—and he's not in it because he had ruined three shots by starting to run.

Box Office Mojo: The visual approach is very romanticized—?

Frank Marshall: That's the perfect word. I have this romantic notion of what it would be like to be a dogsledder and to be out with those beautiful animals in this environment. They keep you warm, there's the unconditional love, trust and loyalty and that was part of this story. I felt that when I was out there. The way those dogs put their faces against the snow and the contrast between their coats and their eyes—it's a balance between romanticism and realism.

Box Office Mojo: For the movie's ending, you insisted that the skies be sunny and blue, right?

Frank Marshall: Yes. It had a certain look I wanted for the reunion, warm and sunny, as opposed to the cold and harsh conditions the dogs had been through.

Box Office Mojo: How have people responded to Eight Below's realistic aspects?

Frank Marshall: It's been pretty extraordinary. A lot of kids have told me they were counting the dogs in every shot because they were so worried that another dog was going to get hurt or lost. Some people have said that they were not going to see [the movie] because they didn't think they could take a dog dying. But they did, and they said it was handled in a loving way, because dogs do die and they could tell I understood what it's like to lose your companion. We who have dogs all feel that way. If no dogs had died, there would be no tension, no suspense, no drama. I'm a storyteller. The reaction is: 'I have dogs and I love your movie.' This has been my most rewarding movie on all levels—it's what we set out to do and I'm very proud that it's essentially my original vision.

Box Office Mojo: You worked with horses on Seabiscuit and The Young Black Stallion. Why didn't The Young Black Stallion perform better?

Frank Marshall: I don't know; too short—not enough story? IMAX is hamstrung by its own format. I always thought, and I may have less confidence in this opinion, that if you told the right narrative story in IMAX, people will come. It has to be engaging—it has to connect with the audience, as Everest did. There was an emotional connection between that story and the audience. There are limitations on how you tell the story so you have to come up with a new filmmaking language because you can't pan as fast, you kind of have to let things happen in the frame and I don't think there are enough filmmakers experienced enough in this format to get that emotional story. You end up having museum directors, with all due respect. We needed more story and we didn't have the money. Also, we're limited [in IMAX] because these institutions run on this 40-minute schedule because of school groups—that's where they make their money—and if it's an hour and 15 minutes, they don't know what to do with it.

Box Office Mojo: Of your lesser known produced pictures, which ones have a cult following?

Frank Marshall: Fandango, The Warriors and Swing Kids. I loved that story. I come from a jazz guitar background and [director] Thomas [Carter] did a great job. But I think it was two movies—it should have stayed with the music and the kids and the swing. It became too serious or something. [Christian Bale and Robert Sean Leonard] are great and the dance numbers are fantastic.

Box Office Mojo: What was it like to work with Audrey Hepburn on her last picture, Always?

Frank Marshall: It was like having a goddess there. She was such a lady. A lot of times you meet heroes and it's disappointing but she was wonderful to everyone on the set. Steven [Spielberg] was like a little kid around her. I was happy as a clam working on Always. We were in Montana in smoke jumping planes fighting fires. It was an adventure.

Box Office Mojo: How involved were you in Back to the Future?

Frank Marshall: Very involved. That's one of the best scripts I've come across—and at first, nobody would make it. I just played it for the kids and they said: 'put on the next one!' They loved the blend of fantasy and reality.

Box Office Mojo: Back to the Future was also clever and smart—?

Frank Marshall: —It really does all start with that and that's what you're not finding—smart screenplays. It's a reflection of the culture; studios are basing decisions on clichéd remakes of old television shows, not great movies, great stories, great books. It's also the MTV generation where everything is fast, fast, fast. I tell some of them I'm actually going to hold on a shot and they don't get it. Look at John Ford's movies: he never cuts to a close-up. It's fabulous. It's very TV to punch in and our movies are now a product of the generation that's grown up on TV. That's what they think is working.

Box Office Mojo: How do you stay grounded in reality?

Frank Marshall: I try to stay connected to the real world and not become insulated. I'm not in it for the glamour—which sometimes comes without you wanting it—and I can operate with my feet on the ground. I have a lot of friends who are not in the business. I don't want to go to the parties. I try to pay attention to the stories that we tell—and I get feedback from my friends.

Box Office Mojo: You've worked on several of Steven Spielberg's more benevolent movies. Is that your philosophy?

Frank Marshall: I do see the bright side of things. I see a problem as a challenge, not as a bad thing, and I become more creative. I've always looked on the positive side of life.

Box Office Mojo: Is it harder to maintain that optimism in movies?

Frank Marshall: I do see that there are a lot of dark movies. I see that on these TV shows, too. They're mean. It's about people humiliating each other. I'm tired of movies exploring only the dark side. We need to make good movies that people want to see. A movie should be life-fulfilling.

Box Office Mojo: How has technology changed movies?

Frank Marshall: In a lot of ways, it's great. But, particularly on the editing side, there are almost too many choices. I think back to how we used to write and cut movies, when we used to mimeograph a script. If you wanted to make a change, you'd have to be really committed to it, because you'd have to crank out a hundred pages in the production office. I have this discussion with studios all the time. They seem to think you can cut down post-production time, because everything can go faster. Well, yes, you can go faster—but you still need time to think. You still need time to look at what you've done. Now, we all tend to work on a reel at a time and it is faster. But you tend to forget [something] and you need to sit down and run the whole movie again to see what that change did to the rest of the movie. I sometimes get hung up on the fact that I can change it back and forth and, then, I can't decide. It's about being really committed to your choice. So it's positive but there are some negative things about technology. I mean, it can't make you think faster. With a faster editing process, you're not as able to take a step away to let it settle and evaluate the original intention. You lose the thinking time in these crunches because of the release date. Look at something like King Kong, which I think we all have to agree would be better shortened. But they didn't have the time to do that. My understanding was that they were doing a reel at a time—I don't know that they ever saw the whole movie—because they were so crushed and they were just turning out reels. The thing that we all live and die by are these release dates—and there is a point where they have to pry the movie out of your hands.

Box Office Mojo: Was there pressure to shorten your movie?

Frank Marshall: There was pressure to have it under two hours. But my movie played better under two hours. I had to balance the people stuff and the dog stuff. I didn't want to be away from the dogs too long because I knew people would be riveted by the dogs' story. There wasn't much for the people to be doing—there were sort of two movies—so I couldn't develop the human characters as much as I wanted but I had to show what happened while we were away for six months. I used everything I had of the dogs. It's that balance you try to find. Then you put it out in front of an audience and I have to say when you're dealing with audiences—and I hadn't really done an all ages kind of movie—I agreed that shorter was better.

Box Office Mojo: Your father, Jack Marshall, was a composer. Can you tell us about his work?

Frank Marshall: My dad did TV show themes, including The Munsters, which was the most popular. There was another show called It's a Man's World about a single dad with a couple of teenagers living on a houseboat. He did a TV show with Henry Fonda called The Deputy. My favorite movie of his was Thunder Road with Robert Mitchum.

Box Office Mojo: What's the first movie you remember seeing in a movie theater?

Frank Marshall: I think it was Them! (1954). I love science fiction. There was a whole period—I remember Forbidden Planet, House on Haunted Hill. I also remember This Island Earth. I loved scaring or amazing people—not terrorizing people. As I got older, one of my favorite movies was The Sand Pebbles. It was an adventure in a foreign place—a wider scope—and I was a big fan of Steve McQueen and I thought 'these are the kind of movies I want to make.' I also liked The Dirty Dozen, The Great Escape, The Man Who Would Be King. Adventures.


• Review - Eight Below

• Review - The Young Black Stallion

• Interview: 'Back to the Future' Writer/Producer Bob Gale

DVD: 'Eight Below' on

• 'Eight Below' Official Web Site