“‘Clockstoppers’ is a sci-fi fantasy adventure intended to be a film the entire family can enjoy together,” says producer Gale Anne Hurd. “To appeal to a wider audience, we made the protagonists high school seniors, kids who are grappling with who they are now and who they are going to be in the future.”
“I really like that it’s a family movie that my kids can see,” says director Jonathan Frakes, who directed “Star Trek: First Contact (1996)” and “Star Trek - Insurrection (1998).” Drawn to the project not only because of its sci-fi element, Frakes also liked the humorous bent of the film, adding, “It’s a wonderful story.”
The film combines comedy, action, special effects and technology to create a character-driven adventure into a fascinating world in which reality is confused with a fateful game. With the added elements of an extraordinary technology that has the potential to be life-threatening in the wrong hands, “Clockstoppers” is also a classic tale of the struggle of good against evil.
The adventure begins when Zak discovers the watch among his father’s possessions, and innocently starts having fun with his new powers of invisibility.
“At first Zak has a great joyride with this watch showing it off to his new friend Francesca, a beautiful exchange student,” explains producer Julia Pistor. “But soon Zak discovers there are some really bad people out there that want this technology, and who are really furious that he’s stumbled upon it. They’ve even kidnapped his father, and now Zak, using the watch, has to track his father down.”
“With the kidnapping, the film takes off on a really high-speed adventure in which Zak has to save his father,” interjects executive producer Albie Hecht. “In the process, he reconnects with his dad and finds out that they actually have more in common than he thought.”
Hurd observes that science fiction can either take audiences away to worlds far, far away, like “Star Wars” and “Alien,” or it can show people a way to look at their own world through new eyes.
“I’ve always been a fan of speculative fiction,” says Hurd, “and I loved the idea that ‘Clockstoppers’ combines a sci-fi adventure with a comedic family tale, creating a world that I’ve never seen before in a movie.”
The reason “Clockstoppers” can achieve such broad appeal is due to the combination of Hurd’s producing credits (“The Terminator,” “Aliens” and “Armageddon”) with Hecht and Pistor’s producing credits in association with Nickelodeon Movies (“The Rugrats Movie,” “Snow Day,” “Good Burger,” “Harriet the Spy”). Together, then, Hurd, Hecht and Pistor, along with Nickelodeon, offer a very accessible sci-fi fantasy that offers both action-adventure and fine family entertainment.
But without the right director, “Clockstoppers” would never have become the mesmerizing film that it is. From the start, the choice was eminently clear -- Jonathan Frakes, who had already worked on science fiction projects and films in a variety of genres as a producer, director, and most importantly, as an actor.
“What’s great about having an acting background is that you know how difficult it is to perform in a film with visual effects that require acting in front of a green screen or a blue screen,” says Hurd. “So because of his past in acting, Jonathan’s able to commiserate with the cast in a way that allows him to communicate the exact dramatic emotion he wants.”
“Jonathan Frakes is an amazing conductor, a real leader on the set,” adds Hecht, “and because he was in a science fiction classic, ‘Star Trek,’ he knows what real science fiction is and can be. In addition, he has a great musical sense, playing the trombone, and the knowledge of music and rhythm are so important to the pace of any movie. All that, and he has a charming personality as well. It’s a combination that makes for a great director.”
Finding the right cast was of course very important to the filmmakers, and one of the greatest challenges was finding the young man to play Zak.
“Zak is very, very smart, but at the same time he has something of a slacker mentality, which is an interesting dichotomy in his character,” explains Hurd. “The actor who plays him needs to be charming, warm and funny, while at the same time, able to deliver a dramatic performance. It is difficult to find all that in a young actor.”
But then, according to Hurd, she saw Jesse Bradford in “Bring It On” and came to the office saying she’d found the perfect Zak.
“I didn’t even connect that Jesse Bradford from ‘Bring It On’ was the same Jesse Bradford from ‘King of the Hill,’ which is one of my favorite movies,” says Hurd. “But I came in one Monday morning and said I’d found the star of the movie. Happily, when Julia Pistor, Jonathan Frakes and the studio saw ‘Bring It On’ they agreed.”
The search for Francesca, the foreign exchange student, was a little more complicated, and according to Hurd, they hired a casting director in Mexico City to send casting tapes of young women from Mexico and South America.
“MTV and Nickelodeon sent in a number of girls on tape, too, and Paula Garces came in and read on one of those casting calls in New York,” remembers Hurd. “Without the benefit of Jonathan’s direction, she impressed us enough that we flew her out to Los Angeles for the final screen test where we tested three actresses opposite Jesse. The rest is history.”
The next step was to cast the film’s villains, and finding the right actor to play Dopler was also challenging because in addition to instigating the film’s conflict and dramatic action, he had to be very funny and provide occasional comic relief.
“French Stewart is one of those actors that when you look at him you naturally smile,” says director Frakes. “I mean, the way he moves is funny.”
Hurd agrees, adding that she had worked with French on “Dick,” and in that film, she saw a side of the actor that wasn’t apparent to her in “3rd Rock From the Sun.” It really made her want to work with him again, and happily, “Clockstoppers” gave her the opportunity.
Dopler’s malevolent boss and Zak’s nemesis is played by Michael Biehn, whom Hurd had worked with previously as well.
“I think that Michael Biehn’s career and my career are inextricably intertwined,” says Hurd. “The first film that I produced on my own was ‘Terminator.’ We worked together on that film and then later on ‘Aliens’ and ‘The Abyss.’ In the past, Michael’s played either a freedom fighter or a military person, but in this movie, he plays the head of a biotech company. It’s a nice change that he is more than capable of handling.”
“The thing about Michael is that he’s an actual actor,” adds French Stewart. “He’s the real deal, and I’ve picked up a lot from working with him because he really knows what he’s doing. He has this incredible focus, and in the role of Gates, he’s genuinely scary.”
“It’s fun to be a bad guy,” declares Biehn, adding that after reading the screenplay, he felt it was something his nine-year-old son would enjoy. “Actually, it’s fun for the whole family.”
Zak’s parents were another important step in the casting process, and according to director Frakes, Robin Thomas was the perfect choice for Zak’s dad because he has similar features and characteristics to Jesse Bradford.
“We were lucky to get Robin,” says Frakes. “Not only is he a wonderful actor, but he looks like, and has the speech patterns of, Jesse Bradford. So you really buy the two of them as father and son, which isn’t often the case in movies.”
Julia Sweeney plays Zak’s mom, and her character according to Hurd, must show tolerance mixed with humor.
“What really impressed me about Julia is that she’s not just a comedian, she’s someone who has so much heart, and that’s essential for this role,” explains Hurd. “Zak’s mom needs patience, because the family starts off on a difficult note. The audience is rooting for them to come together at the end. Julia brings strength, great warmth, sensitivity and wonderful comic timing.”
Completing the family is Zak’s younger sister Kelly, played by Lindze Letherman. On her way to becoming a veteran, the teenage actor has already been in an Oscar®-nominated feature film “Bicentennial Man” opposite Robin Williams, Sam Neill and Oliver Platt.
“We pretty much started from scratch with the casting and ended up with a great company of actors,” says Frakes. “I’m really quite thrilled to be working with them.”
The actors return the praise wholeheartedly.
“The director sets the mood on a set, and Jonathan Frakes sets a beautiful mood,” says Jesse Bradford. “He keeps it light and makes everybody feel like they’re doing a good job. It just makes an actor want to work that much harder.”
French Stewart agrees, adding, “Jonathan’s been acting for a long time, and he can speak to an actor in a shorthand that’s just delightful. He’s really an enjoyable guy to work for.”
But perhaps relative newcomer Paula Garces sums up what Frakes lent to the atmosphere on the “Clockstoppers” set the best – a sense of excitement.
“A shot never became old for Jonathan,” says Garces. “Even if we did the same scene a thousand times, he was always excited.”
And that’s likely what audiences will feel throughout the film – a fresh sense of excitement, and certainly something they’ve never seen before.