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Paul Walker was not the first actor that came to mind when Frank Marshall was preparing to shoot Eight Below, but Walker’s manager made sure that he was the last, Frank Marshall on his Sydney visit explains to Andrew L. Urban.

Frank Marshall is a medium sized man and looks almost diminutive in the spacious suite of Sydney’s Park Hyatt, especially as the king bed has been removed. He jetted in 24 hours prior to our interview and had been spruiking Eight Below ever since, but appears fresh and affable and genial.

But that’s par for the course for a man who has had the energy to produce and or direct some of the Hollywood’s big ticket items; Marshall’s credits as a director include Arachnophobia, Congo, and the true-life survival drama Alive, which is in the same genre as Eight Below, except Eight Below is not as ‘heavy’. More on that later.

At Amblin Entertainment, the company he founded with Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy in 1981, some of the movies Marshall produced were Poltergeist, Gremlins, The Goonies, The Color Purple, An American Tail, Empire of the Sun, Hook, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, The Land Before Time, the Back to the Future trilogy and the Indiana Jones trilogy. Then through Marshall/Kennedy, he has been responsible for films like Snow Falling on Cedars, directed by Scott Hicks; A Map of the World, starring Sigourney Weaver and Julianne Moore; M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense, starring Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment, and Signs, starring Mel Gibson.

"a good yarn"

He also knows how to answer questions; when I put it to him that Paul Walker, good as he is, would not be the first actor to come to mind for a role as a sensitive but tough survival guide who interacts with dogs and human equally well, Marshall. Nods. “No, Paul Walker wasn’t the first actor to come to mind. I saw him as an action hero, and didn’t think of him in this role. But then I saw the movie he made called Into The Blue and saw a sensitive side … and then when we met I really went for it.”

Paul Walker’s manager earned his cut, obviously, because if it weren’t for him, Walker would not have been able to add this juicy item to his resume. The juicy item is a story inspired by real events that occurred some 50 years ago, and it happened to a Japanese research team. In Marshall’s film, the only remaining element is that the sled dogs were left behind and survived. Eight Below is, however, a good yarn.

In the dying days of what passes for summer in the Antarctic, Jerry Shepard (Paul Walker) reluctantly agrees to guide geologist Davis (Bruce Greenwood) to a distant sector of Antarctica in search of meteor fragments. Jerry’s ex girlfriend, the bush pilot Katie (Moon Goodblood), radios a storm warning to get the duo out of the ice, just as Davis is rescued after an accident by their pack of eight sled dogs. The evacuation is successful but for the dogs, who have to be left behind until a return trip is possible. With the storms and with winter closing in, this is impossible and Jerry is guilt ridden to have left his dogs. During the harsh, Antarctic winter, the dogs must struggle for survival alone in the intense frozen wilderness for over six months until Jerry and his small team, including cartographer Cooper (Jason Biggs) can try to mount a rescue mission. If Jerry can find the funds. If any of them are still alive.

Of course shooting in the Antarctic was out of the question, “quite apart from the fact that you can’t take dogs there, it’s too expensive and logistically difficult. It was difficult enough as it was, using Northern Canada for the main base location, Norwegian waters for the sequences with the ice breaker ship, and Greenland for the penguins.” In fact, says Marshall, it was as tough as the making of Alive.

Back to the subject of ‘heavy’: while it is a dramatic story, and there are heartwrenching scenes, the film is intended as a family entertainment, and this is the area where a film with Disney money might fall into traps of sentimentality. That Marshall avoids this and that the dogs remain dog-like, instead of cute human-figures in dog suits, saves the film from those traps. And the surprise is that Disney executives never flinched, says Marshall. “I told them at the start that I wanted to make a film that was real, and not get into sentimentality,” – meaning schmalz.

"I want to be the storyteller"

As for his dual roles of producer and director, Marshall says he loves both. “I love supporting a director’s vision, but sometimes if I get passionate about a story, I want to be the storyteller – as in Eight Below.”

Next up (among seven other projects), Marshall is producing the third in his trilogy of movies based on the writings of best selling novelist Robert Ludlum and starring Matt Damon: The Bourne Ultimatum.

Published April 20, 2006

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Frank Marshall
(Pic. Andrew L. Urban)


Paul Walker

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