Jon Watts, a 34-year-old graduate from New York University's film school, was probably unheard of by most before Sony Pictures and Marvel made the big announcement that he was selected to direct the untitled Spider-Man movie set for release in 2017.
Watts made his directorial debut in the 2014 horror film Clown, and is the co-writer, producer and director behind the drama Cop Car, starting Kevin Bacon, that hits select theaters today, Aug. 7.
If his latest film gives us any insight to what we can expect from the director, then buckle up, because Watts knows how to take you for a ride.
First debuting at the Sundance Film Festival in January, Cop Car is a thriller about two boys, Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) and Harrison (Hays Wellford), who steal an abandoned cop car they spot in a field for a day of joyriding. Little do they know, this cop car is owned by the small-town sheriff (Kevin Bacon), who makes it his personal mission to get back his car at all costs. The boys then have to deal with the consequences, finding they can't put the brakes on the violent game of cat and mouse they find themselves caught up in.
T-Lounge spoke to Watts about his indie thriller film, and how it led to reading comics for Marvel's untitled Spider-Man reboot.
Cop Car follows the story of two 10-year-olds who steal the wrong cop car, you could say. The film explores the bond these two boys have. What was the inspiration for the film, and were the characters loosely based off your own childhood friendships?
Yeah, definitely. The film is based on a reoccurring dream that I had about me and my friend Travis where I am in the passenger seat of my mom's car and he's driving, and we are both about 10. And we are driving around our small town and passing people on the street that we know, but no one's saying anything or noticing us.
Then he keeps on going faster and faster, and I'm getting more and more nervous that we're going to get in trouble, get caught or get hurt, and then I wake up.
That's the reoccurring dream I had since I was a kid, and I felt like maybe there could be something to it. A lot of the conversations the kids had in the movie are conversations I've had as a kid.
It's what I would expect any 10-year-old boy to be up to when running away from home, then finding themselves into trouble.
That's my hometown. Those are the actual big fields that I would walk through when I was a little kid.
The entire movie takes place out in these plains of Colorado. What was it like on location since it is your hometown? What was the biggest challenge you faced while filming?
Shooting was great. I know those fields and roads and towns so well, so there was never a moment where I had to go and look for a location really because it was written to be shot there. And my whole family still lives there, so they all helped. I have a sister who is a nurse, and she was our on-site medic, and I have another sister who is a teacher, and she was our teacher for the kids. I have a brother who's a firefighter, and he helped us with locations, safety and fire danger.
It was a whole family affair.
It sure was.
It's pretty impressive that two 10-year-olds are able to drive a cop car. I assume the driving was left to the professionals, but did James Freedson-Jackson and Hays Wellford get some practice for their roles?
Oh, yeah. I can't give away how we did the trick because it's just so low tech that it takes all of the magic out of it, but they are definitely sitting in that car, turning the steering wheel while the car is driving.
I don't know if it's good practice what we had them do, driving through fields and jumping over hills, but it was an experience for them. It was so much fun.
There is a juxtaposition in the movie between the innocence of the boys and the violence among men. Are the kids stripped of their innocence by the end?
Yeah, I think so. It starts as sort of a magical journey where these kids end up in a very adult situation, so we definitely put them through the ringer by the end of it.
But how you want to interpret it by the very end is sort of up to you.
We get to see Kevin Bacon portray a crooked sheriff, the kind you don't want on your bad side. This reminded me of a more sinister version of his role on The Following. What was it like to work with him?
He's incredible. I mean, I'm such a huge fan, so you get a little nervous initially. I remember when he first called I was really excited and nervous and didn't want to say the wrong thing, but the moment you start talking to him about the character and the film, he's so smart and articulate and experienced that any of these nerves fade away.
And he just brought so much to it that was so far and above what I was imagining for the character. You know, you're dealing with this really smart, great guy, and then you look down on your monitor and you're like 'Oh crap, that's Kevin Bacon. He's in my movie.'
Now you go from directing this indie film to landing the opportunity to direct the untitled Spider-Man film. How did this come about?
I suppose like anything. I went in initially for a general meeting over there [at Marvel], and then I just kept coming back and meeting with more and more people until eventually I found out that I got the job.
Do you feel a lot of pressure since it's the first Spider-Man film that takes place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — especially since its a prequel?
I'm excited. It's such a great team over at Marvel and Sony, and there's just so much potential. If anything, it opens up more possibilities.
Your career trajectory from Sundance to landing a huge film franchise mirrors that of Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed, Jurassic World). How does a director go from an indie film to getting these big-budget films?
I'm not really sure. I've always liked big and small movies. I think it would be better to ask the Marvel or Sony guys — I'm just the guy who has to make it [Spider-Man].
I read you are a Jurassic Park fan. Did you see Jurassic World, and is there anything you would want to see happen in the sequel?
Oh, yeah. It's great. I have always been a Jurassic Park fan. I don't have time to come up with Jurassic World ideas, although I'd love to. I have to think of Spider-Man ideas.
Going back to Spider-Man and speaking of the great casting choice in Cop Car with Kevin Bacon, we know Tom Holland will play Peter Parker. What are your thoughts on him portraying this superhero, and can you give us the scoop if he was the standout frontrunner for this role?
It was a process that was ongoing before I was even involved, but he's great. He's going to be perfect. We haven't started filming, we're just starting to write the script, which is why I don't have much to say about it since it's just getting started. There's nothing to report yet, but there will be soon.
Do you describe yourself as a comic book reader or a superhero fan?
Yeah, I'm a huge fan. I like the Todd McFarlane Spider-Man, that's when I was like 12, 13 [-years-old], but then it all kind of got eclipsed by movies. But it's all coming back. It's a great opportunity to go back and read everything. My job is to read comics at the moment, which is kind of amazing.
What is the biggest difference you expect you will find between directing a thriller indie film like Cop Car to a franchise superhero film?
Again, I don't really know. I mean, not yet, but there's just a lot more people involved. Fundamentally, it all comes down to what's on that little screen. That's what's great about movies. No matter how many people are involved or how big the budget is, it all gets boiled down to one shot at a time.
Cop Car hits select theaters Friday, Aug. 7, and on-demand on Aug. 14.