A Brief Interview With TERMINAL Director Vaughn Stein

What does the director of this weekend's well-cast neon-noir have to say for himself?

Vaughn Stein's Terminal is bound to be a divisive movie.

On the one hand, you've got a stellar cast (led by the excellent Margot Robbie and featuring supporting work from folks like Simon Pegg, Mike Myers and Dexter Fletcher) and some of the prettiest art direction you're likely to have seen in a long time. On the other hand, Terminal's derivative, clunky, and overly-verbose. How you'll react to it is anyone's guess, but we encourage you to at least give it a shot.

Today we've got a brief interview with Stein himself, who sat down to talk with me about that amazing cast, the film's gorgeous look, and what Roger Rabbit has to do with any of this. 


Hello, Vaughn Stein.


This is your first feature as a director. How are you enjoying the junket interview process?

Well, I love to talk! It's been quite an experience and I'm thoroughly enjoying it, and I really mean that. 

I ask this question a lot.


Yeah, I'm just fascinated by it. It's something I absolutely could not do without losing my mind.

Well, luckily the questions have been really unique and original! It's been fun!

Well, you haven't heard my questions yet, so buckle up: first of all, the cast on this movie is unusually great. Can you tell us a little about how it came together?

Well, first of all, thank you for saying that! When we put the script out to cast, the response was just incredibly humbling. To have heroes of mine - guys like Simon Pegg and Mike Myers and Dexter Fletcher - all love this script and agree to come to Budapest in the middle of the summer to shoot it was amazing. 

This is a hard movie to describe. How do you describe it?

(laughs) Well, we wanted to play with the ideas of genre. For me, a lot of it came from the love of noir - everything from classic noir to neo-noir and sci-fi noir. I've always loved noir on film and in literature, and that was another sort of touchstone for us in terms of designing the aesthetic of the film. I've always had something of a fascination with the aesthetics of graphic novels and fairy tales, and I distilled all those things together into kind of a dark, anonymous city within which we could tell some of these twisted, noir-ish tales.

And then it became a jet-black comedy, a lot of which comes from the remarkable cast. You've got comedy giants like Simon and Mike and Margot, who's absolutely hilarious, and they sort of elevated the script in terms of it being this jet-black comedy. 

We see Mike Myers so infrequently these days that when he does pop up in something, it's kind of a shock. What's that dude like?

It was an absolute honor and a privilege. He's an amazing guy, and so thorough in both his performance and his research. Everything from his physicality (the way he builds a character, or - as he calls it - the "silhouette" of a character) to the costuming choices...he's such a precise technician. He's also a comedy legend, y'know? He's created some of the most enduring characters in Hollywood.

I think we went out to him [with the script] late. We knew we wanted to do something interesting with his character, this sort of quirky, janitor guy, and we were all just sort of shooting ideas around [as to who could play the character] and someone said, "What about Mike Myers?" and everyone just looked at each other and grinned. We sent him the script, he read it fairly quickly, and then he came back to us right away and said he wanted to talk to me.


And he says, "I read hundreds of scripts per year, and I usually pass on them because I'm really happy with the writing and the work that I'm doing, but I just couldn't put this one down. I loved the character!" That's when I caught a glimpse of myself in a hotel mirror and just watched the color drain from my face. 

With a movie like this, the visual influences are fairly clear - Blade Runner and Dark City and so on. But what film influenced your design that might not be so obvious?

Yeah, Blade Runner's definitely in there, for sure. There's also stuff that's more classically noir, like Double Indemnity or The Maltese Falcon. We've also got some of those neon splashes that you might find in the films of Nicolas Winding Refn or Wong Kar-wai.

We knew we wanted to create a totally unique setting, but we drew from all kinds of genres and sources to create something of an anachronistic feel, just a kaleidoscope of colors and looks. We wanted to blend all that together, and in doing so there are some obscure references in there. I mean, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? was a big influence on our book of color schemes. There were also inspiration points from Quentin Tarantino and Martin McDonaugh, who also have very funny characters in dark situations. It was a real hybrid of all those things.

When you're working towards finalizing the look, how do you know when it's too much?

That's a really good question! We knew the palette and the look couldn't overwhelm character and dialogue, but in terms of knowing when it was too much, we looked at films that bridged that divide well. Holy Motors, for instance, or Fight Club. Films where you're on the edge of that brilliant eccentricity, but at the same time you're absorbed in a great narrative. But it was also experimentation - we wanted to see how far we could push dialogue and characterization and stylized framing - and we just tried to find that balance. And in the edit, we did our best to put together a story that felt quirky and crazy and fun, but at the same time was just a good story that held together.

Terminal is in theaters now. You can read Jacob's review here.