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Inarritu and the The Look of Babel

Inarritu and the The Look of Babel

In a departure from his previous films, González Iñárritu sought to combine in Babel the hyper-realism esthetics of certain scenes, with dream-like sequences in the purest cinematic tradición that show the inner lives of the characters.

Key to achieving this was Oscar-nominated cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto’s mastering of visual narratives: “We wanted to visually represent the emotional journeys of the characters through the use of different film stocks and formats. We felt that subtle differences between the image quality of each story, like the texture of the film grain, the color saturation, and the sharpness of the backgrounds could help enhance the experience of being in different places geographically and emotionally,” says Prieto. “We then digitally combined the different lens formats used into one negative, in the same way that all these cultures and languages come together in one film.”

The almost documentary style becomes a challenge in itself when the production requirements happen to be so high as they were in BABEL. While the deserts in South Morocco and Mexico lacked the essential technological support, a hyper-modern city such as Tokyo was for the opposite reasons full of obstacles faced by the production departments.

“It was one of the toughest experiences of my life, though one of the most unforgettable and gratifying,” says Academy Award-winning production designer Brigitte Broch. “From working in the most amazing landscapes in Morocco to watching the strangest mixture of society in Tokyo, this film has shaped me in my better understanding of mankind. We decided to paint the film by country in the red tones; the orange earth tones for Morocco, the electric vivid red for Mexico and more toward the subtle red-purple for Japan,” says Broch.

Inarritu and the The Look of Babel

For director González Iñárritu, the true achievement consists of making his and his art and photography departments’ efforts invisible to audiences without showing off. This effort was also implied in the self-imposed task of not succumbing to the esthetical temptations offered by places as visually attractive as the cities portrayed.

Efforts of this kind were also put in the editing room. “I love working with Alejandro because he is relentless,” says editor Stephen Mirrione. Oscar winner. “He’s not satisfied unless every frame in the film makes you feel something. In editing BABEL that meant being focused microscopically on every detail within each scene. Over 2,500 distinct camera setups were shot, giving us an overwhelming palette of images and sounds to choose from. There are roughly 4,000 cuts in the film, so like assembling a massive mosaic from tiny intricately designed tiles, the work we all accomplished only became clear to me after stepping back and watching with a little distance. I am still discovering new details, new connections, and new layers of meaning with every viewing.”

Martin Hernandez, a close friend of Iñarritu’s, began collaborating with him 22 years ago when they were working for a radio station in Mexico City. “When there’s nothing to listen to, there’s nothing to understand; if we stop understanding, then our language has become useless, even worse, in the end it will only divide us. Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu´s BABEL is a very detailed description on this subject at the only level that becomes truly universal: the human level. It is filled with some very subtle and some very strident characters, all of them powerfully visual and sonorous. When I was on location for BABEL trying to record the sounds in every space captured for the film, I thought I was there to hear. I was wrong. Now that I’m here, in front of Alejandro’s last cut, I am really listening. I’ve learned to listen to what he hears, and now I’ve been able to understand him. This movie expects the same attention as any human being demands, it is more about them, about the `other’, about the apparent stranger, hence in the end, it’s all about ourselves,” says Hernandez.

Adding the final touches of feeling and depth to the film is another long-time partner of Iñárritu’s – composer Gustavo Santaolalla, who most recently wrote the Oscar-winning score for Brokeback Mountain. “BABEL was the third motion picture I had the chance of working with Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu on. Since “Amores Perros” and through “21 Grams” we’ve been developing a particular musical language that helps us to connect with the humanistic, visceral and heartfelt essence of his movies. The challenge with “Babel” is the four stories that take place in three very different parts of the world was to find a sound, a leading instrument that would connect all the characters and places, keeping an identity but not sounding like the music of a National Geographic documentary. That voice I found in an instrument called the oud, an Arab fretless instrument, ancestor of the Spanish guitar that also echoes the Japanese koto. That sound in combination with other instruments is what created the sonic fabric of Babel,” says Santaolalla.

The crew of top rate collaborators conformed by Prieto, Broch and Santaolalla, along with sound designer Martín Hernández, have been integral members of González Iñárritu team since Amores Perros, his successful debut film. The artistic bond already established between them made the BABEL experience even more intimate and transforming. They comprise what he calls his “creative close family,” essential in the process of translating a vital experience to a language as universal as film.

“Over the course of the year, we lived around the world like a big circus of gypsies. Even when a film can be a close and personal testimony of oneself, making a film is a huge collaborative process. It’s a creative orgy in which everybody gives the best of their talents and I owe to all of my team and collaborators, the best and most satisfying moments, both in the film and out of it. Without them, it would have been impossible to conceive even an inch of film.,” says the director.

For this project, Iñárritu also invited producers Jon Kilik and Steve Golin to complete his “team” of collaborators. “It was great to be able to rely on the family that had been with me during the past two films, but it was also amazing to have worked with new friends and partners, Jon Kilik and Steve Golin. We went through a lot over the course of the film, but their spirit, experience and support was indispensable for this project,” says Iñárritu.

From the point of view of a producer, BABEL posed numerous challenges, but the biggest goal of all was to maintain the creative integrity of the film. “BABEL became the most demanding and the most rewarding producing challenge of my career,” said producer Jon Kilik (Alexander, Malcolm X, Dead Man Walking). “Remote deserts, highly secured international borders, and one of the most densely populated cities on the planet made for enormous production challenges while embracing the lifestyle and work style of Morocco, Mexico and Japan resulted in an honesty on the screen that I am extremely proud of.”

Producer Steve Golin (Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich) shared a similar experience. “This was my first collaboration with Alejandro and the experience of working on BABEL was not only memorable, but unlike any other film I have been a part of. Each day provided me an opportunity to witness people’s methodologies of filmmaking within an international setting and I was continually challenged and inspired as a producer. Having to overcome the obstacles and boundaries of language to find a way of working with one another helped to make this journey truly unique.

Related Link: Full Production Notes for Babel Movie

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We Bought a Zoo and visual palette

We Bought a Zoo and Visual Palette

Russell Crowe reunites with several key regular members of his behind the scenes team, including production designer Clay Griffith and editor Mark Livolsi, A.C.E. New to Cameron’s team are director of photography Rodrigo Prieto, ASC/AMC and costume designer Deborah L. Scott.

Griffith notes that Crowe’s visual palette for WE BOUGHT A ZOO was inspired by the Neil Young Harvest album, the 2007 Sigur Rós documentary, Heima, and the aforementioned Bill Forsythe film, Local Hero. “The connective tissue between those three works is that they have soul,” notes Griffith. “Cameron always likes to find the poetry in things.”

Over the years, Crowe and Griffith have developed a close working relationship and design shorthand. Griffith recalls that he would show Crowe images that would evoke thoughts and feelings they could bring into the set. “Cameron would counter with another photograph, so we had this kind of visual and verbal dialogue.”

We Bought A Zoo also marks the first collaboration between Crowe and costume designer Deborah L. Scott, whose many credits include E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Back to the Future, Titanic and Avatar. Scott notes that Benjamin is an “everyman figure, so with him there’s nothing that’s too fashionable. It’s just basic, functional ‘man clothes’ – he’s a real guy’s guy.”

For Scarlett Johansson’s Kelly Foster, Scott went for a modern day extension of legendary animal researchers and naturalists Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey. “Those women brought enormous sensitivity and femininity and warmth to the environment. When I looked at pictures of Jane Goodall and how beautiful she was, it just struck a chord.”

We Bought a Zoo and Visual Palette

Scott also designed clothing for Crystal, the capuchin monkey and sidekick to zookeeper Robin Jones. “I might have done something for a dog or cat on a movie, but never for a monkey,” she laughs. “It came as a little bit of a surprise. Crystal was pretty amazing. Once I got the basic pattern down, she would stand there and you’d hold the little pants out and she’d step in just like a small child. It was easy. And no backtalk!”

WE BOUGHT A ZOO was filmed on locations around Los Angeles before moving 30 miles north to Greenfield Ranch in Thousand Oaks, where the Rosemoor Animal Park set was constructed. The completed zoo contained animal enclosures, walking paths, water features, diverse flora and fauna, an observation tower, a sculpture garden, and an amphitheater.

The Rosemoor Animal Park sets took nine months to design and build. The excavation and construction occurred over a four-month period, taking the combined efforts of over 140 carpenters, painters, prop makers, plasterers, sculptors, sign makers, and landscapers, along with the art department staff of art directors, set designers, and set decorators.

The Mee Family home, a 4,000 square foot, two-story, American Colonial farmhouse, painted in Cape Cod Gray, was the only residential structure built from scratch at the Greenfield Ranch location. Griffith says that aside from building the zoo, the farmhouse was the most enjoyable part of his job. “There’s something viscerally exciting about building a house from the ground up,” he relates. “What I really found interesting what the house’s size, its relation to its setting, the age of the trees, and the big, pastoral landscape behind it. You’re definitely in another world.”

Finding the spot on the sprawling property to erect the eight-acre zoo was a challenge. When the property was first scouted there was no road leading to the eventual site. (Griffith recalls it was just “five foot tall grass and rattlesnakes.”) But from a specific perspective, the area looked like Dartmoor Zoo, the real-life zoo purchased by Benjamin Mee.

Once Griffith began his design work for the zoo, he and his art directors met with animal coordinator Mark Forbes to determine and coordinate the placement of the animal enclosures. He recalls Forbes telling him, “Don’t put the tigers near the bears. Don’t let the lions and the tigers see each other. And don’t ever, ever, ever let the lion, tigers and bears see any of the hoofed animals. “I told Mark, ‘Great, you just spread the zoo out everywhere,” Griffith laughs. ‘I can’t have anything that’s even remotely near each other.’ But it worked out really well, although we spent an exorbitant amount of time plotting out where each specific enclosure would go.”

Griffith and his team did extensive research on what each enclosure would need to house its respective animal. “We looked at small zoos and large zoos,” he says. “We talked to people from the LA County Zoo, the Orange County Zoo, and the Tucson Zoo, where my art director spent a week looking at their operations. Part of what Cameron wanted to do was show what it’s really like to be behind the scenes at a zoo.”

Overseeing the exotic and domesticated animals featured in the film, is veteran animal coordinator, Mark Forbes, whose company Birds & Animals Unlimited has provided and trained animals for many productions. Forbes and a team of 30 specialized animal trainers worked with the nearly 75 animals featured in the film, including an African Lion, Bengal Tigers, North American Grizzly Bears, White-Backed Vultures, White-Faced Capuchins, Hamadryas Baboons, Eurasian Eagle-Owls, Crested Porcupines, Asian Small-Clawed Otters, a Binturong, Grevy’s Zebras, Ostriches, Chilean Flamingos, Indian Blue Peacocks, Peahens, a Zebu, Dromedary Camels, Alpacas, a Kangaroo, a Leopard, a Red Fox, and a Scarlet Macaw.

During production, the zoo animals were not kept in the enclosures at the zoo set. Instead, they were brought in on a daily basis as needed. The animals were all housed with their respective owners and trainers and various animal compounds in the Southern California area.

Read full production notes for We Bought a Zoo >>

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Elle Fanning Career Milestones

Elle Fanning Career Milestones

Born: Mary Elle Fanning
Birth Date: April 9, 1998
Birth Place: Conyers, Georgia, USA
Height: 5′ 7¾” (1,72 m)

Mary Elle Fanning was born on the 9th of April 1998 in Conyers, Georgia, USA, to Heather Joy (Arrington) and Steven J. Fanning. Her mother played professional tennis, and her father, now an electronics salesman, played minor league baseball. She is of German, Irish, English, French, and Channel Islander descent.

Energetic, lively, and bright are just a few words that describe Elle Fanning. Elle made her feature film debut in 2001 at the young age of two when she co-starred as a ‘Young Lucy’ in New Line Cinema’s “I Am Sam,” Since then she has starred in more than 10 films and numerous episodes of television (“Criminal Minds,” “Dirty Sexy Money,” The Lost Room mini-series and more). After “I Am Sam,” she went on to co-star opposite Eddie Murphy in the family comedy “Daddy Day Care,” for Revolution Studios. In 2004, Elle appeared in Focus Films’ “The Door in the Floor,” from director Tod Williams. Elle starred as “Ruth Cole,” the daughter of Kim Basinger and Jeff Bridges.

Elle Fanning Career Milestones

In 2005, Elle starred as the young ‘Sweetie Pie Thomas’ in “Because of Winn-Dixie,” with Cicely Tyson and Dave Matthews. 2006 was a busy year for Elle, appearing in two movies. The first was Paramount’s “Babel,” directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, and starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. Next was Touchstone’s “Déjà Vu,” directed by Tony Scott and starring Denzel Washington.

In 2007, Elle filmed “Reservation Road,” where she played “Emma Learner,” the daughter of Joaquin Phoenix, and director John August’s “The Nines,” In 2008, she played the young Cate Blanchett in Paramount and director David Fincher’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” opposite Brad Pitt.

Also that year, Elle starred as “Phoebe Lichten” in the independent film “Phoebe in Wonderland,” opposite Patricia Clarkson, Felicity Huffman and Bill Pullman. The film had its world premiere at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival to rave reviews for its young star. The movie tells the story of a nine-year-old girl who won’t, or cant, follow the rules as she struggles with Tourette’s Syndrome.

Elle Fanning Career Milestones

Elle can most recently be seen starring alongside Stephen Dorff in Sofia Coppola’s latest film “Somewhere.” The film, which Focus released in December 2010, follows a father and his daughter as he is forced to re-examine his life due to her unexpected visit. The film won the 2010 Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion Award. It has also been named one of the top 10 independent films of the year by the National Board of Review. Elle was nominated for a Critics’ Choice Award for her performance in the film.

Last year she starred in two films: “Super 8” and “Twixt Now and Sunrise” for director Francis Ford Coppola, where she stars opposite Val Kilmer and Bruce Dem. Elle is currently in production on Fox’s “We Bought a Zoo,” directed by Cameron Crowe, also starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johannson, as well as Elle has most recently been cast in “Pure Life,” a Van Fischer film, where she is to star opposite Vera Farmiga.

She has since starred in a number of prominent films, including Benjamin Button’in tuhaf hikayesi (2008), Super 8 (2011), We Bought a Zoo (2011), and Maleficent (2014).

Besides acting, her other passions include singing, dancing and writing. She resides in Los Angeles with her parents and sister, Dakota Fanning.

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Super 8: Movie Inside a Movie

Super 8: Movie Inside a Movie

Inside the story of Super 8 is another story: J.J. Abrams decided early on not to write a formal script for the movie that the kids are shooting within the film but, instead, to let it emerge organically, inthe- moment, from the cast’s imagination.

The filmmakers were impressed. “They all had an amazing knack for picking up filmmaking really quickly,” observes Bryan Burk.

Adds Burk: “What I hope and get excited about with ‘Super 8’ is that kids seeing this film might be inspired to go out and make their own movies. There’s something magical about that time when all that was required to make a movie was convincing your friends to spend their summer devoted to the project. I think J.J. will give people that bug, when they realize all you need is a camera, a group of friends and an idea to make great things happen.”

Abrams observes that aspiring moviemakers growing up today have a wealth of digital technology at their fingertips that his generation could only dream about. “The technology has been so democratized that, whereas in 1979 it was a real exception for a kid to have a camera, today they are ubiquitous,” he says. “Every phone has a video camera. The ability to make a home movie that looks the way you can today is something that never existed when I was a kid, but I wish it had.” The 70s World of “Super 8”

If the cast and filmmakers are the heart and soul of “Super 8”, the equally vital skeleton of the film is its visual design. It brings to life a kids’ eye-view of a typical late 70s, working-class, Midwest town and then catapults it into fantastical events, which turn the carefully crafted reality of the place inside out.

Super 8: Movie Inside a Movie

“J.J. very much wanted the feel of the movie to be 1979 but, at the same time, he wanted to give audiences the kind of visuals that only today’s special effects make possible,” notes executive producer Guy Riedel. “There’s that sweetness and lightness evoked by 70s movies, but there’s also no doubt that it is very much a 21st Century J.J. Abrams movie.”

The merging of styles began with the work of director of photography Larry Fong (“300,” “Watchmen”), who Abrams first started working with back in the Super 8 days and has continued to collaborate with on several television series, including “Lost.” Fong is not only one of Hollywood’s top action cinematographers, but also a highly accomplished magician and Abrams wanted him to bring that same sense of the out-of-the-ordinary and sudden surprise to the imagery of “Super 8.”

Says Abrams: “Larry was a kid making movies across the street when first I met him. We became friends and have remained friends since. It was so much fun working with him on this movie because it reminded us so much of what we loved to do as kids.”

Fong’s visuals, which can move from the intimate to the eye-popping, impressed the filmmakers, but it was his prestidigitation that captivated the young cast. “Larry Fong is a mind-blowing magician,” states Joel Courtney. “Every once in a while he would show us how to do a cool trick, but the best part was not knowing how he did them.”

Adds Ryan Lee: “Larry really understood that we needed to have fun to keep us from getting too stressed out on the set. His tricks constantly kept us guessing.”

Meanwhile, the trick of bringing to life the prototypical American mill town of Lillian, Ohio fell to production designer Martin Whist, who previously collaborated with J.J. Abrams on “Cloverfield.” Whist always expects a fun read when Abrams is involved, but the script for “Super 8” took him aback. “It read like an immediate classic,” says the designer. “It had all the elements of movies I loved growing up, but it also felt as though it was the next generation of that kind of story telling.”

He knew from that first reading that he wanted to create a very well-defined, detailed world for these characters and then shake it all up. “My first conversations with J.J. revolved around the fact that we wanted to make everything about the town feel textural, tangible and believable for the era,” Whist recalls. “We had to establish a strong sense of everyday reality, so that when the fantasy elements come into it, the surreal becomes a haunting layer over something that feels very familiar.”

Whist and Abrams both wanted to be as true to the vibrant styles of the late 70s as they could. “We wanted it to be subtle, but the era is an ever present visual influence in the film, especially in the strong colors.” Whist explains. “They stand out because we don’t really use a lot of those colors anymore like olive, burnt orange and ochre. I think I used more shades of brown in this movie than I ever have in my life before!”

Whist continues: “J.J. helped us a lot with the research. He has a great collection of Super 8 magazines from the past, which contained a lot of ads. Looking at all that stuff really cued our own memories and then we would just start brainstorming as to what to create for each character. To me, the secret to creating the authenticity of an era is to be understated. It’s the cumulative effect of small, visceral moments that make you feel you’re in another time, and that’s what we aimed for.”

Costume designer Ha Nguyen (“Shooter,” “Mask”) also found much of her research material in magazines and catalogs; especially in circa 1970s clothing catalogues, which revealed what regular Midwesterners were sporting in that in era.

“I looked at some real school yearbooks from the late 70s,” comments Nguyen. “One was from Ohio, another from Texas and one from Indiana. I compared them to the clothing catalogues I had and it was also pretty much the mid-western clothing that was selling, so it all fit together. We didn’t want the wild 70s styles you might see in fashion layouts. We wanted people to look real.”

With such a large number of military costumes needed for the latter half of the film, Nguyen brought in a Military Costumer, N. Edward Fincher, to work with her. “Ed took care of all the uniforms for us to make sure it was all done very authentically,” she says.

For the main characters, Nguyen set out to highlight six very distinct, young personalities. “Each kid has his or her own completely unique look, with different patterns and colors. Some are a little quirkier, like Charles, and some are a bolder and brighter, like Cary,” Nguyen explains. “We especially had a lot of fun with Joe’s clothing which changes as he goes from being more soft-spoken to really gaining confidence. The colors he wears get stronger and stronger, building towards the climax.”

Dressing Elle Fanning as Alice was another intriguing challenge. “The description of Alice in the script was that, even though she is still a kid, she is also very beautiful,” says Nguyen. “That’s not hard to get across with Elle because she, herself, is absolutely stunning. J.J. also wanted her to be a bit tomboyish. I found softer fabrics for her t-shirts to give her a little more shape, but still kept her tomboy look by using a slightly rougher fabric for the outerwear.”

Fanning sums up the cast’s reaction to the costumes: “They totally transported us back in time. I was mesmerized by them. I’ve always loved vintage clothing. It’s just fun to wear totally different clothes because it allows you to be a totally different person.”

Beyond the look of “Super 8” is another key layer: Michael Giacchino’s score, which challenged him to meld the fun-loving sounds of the 70s with the roller-coaster emotions of a dramatic thriller. An Oscar® winner for “Up” (Original Score), Giacchino has collaborated with Abrams on all of his films.

“Like the rest of us, Michael made Super 8 movies as a kid and he told us ‘I have to score this movie,’” recalls Burk. “He approached it completely from the character’s point of view and he and J.J. spent a lot of time talking about everything that was happening emotionally in the script. Music is always at the center of J.J.’s films, and Michael is always right there with him.”

Related Link: Read the Full Production Notes for Super 8

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