Tag: movies spotlight
From its provocative first chapter to its lyrical last page, Don Winslow’s audacious 2010 novel “Savages” captivated and stunned audiences and critics alike. Winslow describes that the genesis of his bestselling book was an unusual one: “I was sitting at my desk one day in a bad mood and I typed these two words, which would become the infamous first chapter of the book. Then I wrote 14 pages in a rush, and I e-mailed them to Shane [screenplay co-writer / executive producer Shane Salerno] and told him, ‘Either these are really good, or I’m just crazy.’ A few minutes later, I got an e-mail from him saying, ‘Drop everything else you’re doing and finish this book while you’re in this voice.'”
Winslow’s novel proved that rules are made to be broken, and he ended up crafting several chapters of ‘Savages’ in screenplay form. “I was trying to bust out of the typical confines of the crime genre as it’s been defined lately,” Winslow shares. “I threw a few elbows and found moments where I thought, ‘This is better read or experienced as a piece of film rather than as a piece of a novel.'”
Salerno, with whom the author has collaborated for more than 13 years, was glad that he had encouraged Winslow to focus his energy into revisiting a world that the author knew quite well. The executive producer explains: “Don wrote what a lot of people consider to be the definitive source on the subject with ‘The Power of the Dog,’ which is the story of the drug war over 30 years—from the formation of the DEA to 2005. He spent six years researching it down in Mexico, Texas and California. This is terrain that he has chiseled his name into, and it’s a world he knows so well. With ‘Savages,’ he was prescient in seeing the business move from the Mexican cartels into California. It’s interesting when real-life events start to mirror your worst fears.”
Not only was the book critically well received when it was published—Stephen King called the sexy, action-filled drama “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on autoload”—it was fast-tracked into a screenplay. Reflects Salerno: “The normal route for books, and certainly Don’s previous books, is to sell them straight to a studio. “We made the decision to do something different, and we optioned the book to Oliver Stone directly. We felt that this unique material wouldn’t benefit from traditional development, and it needed special handling. We felt that Oliver would get it and began a collaboration developing it and ultimately writing the screenplay together. From the time the script sold to the time that shooting began, it was about three months, which is unheard of.”
“Savages,” laced with the politics and trade of marijuana, areas that have long been of interest to the writer/director, riveted Stone when he read it in galley form. Shane Salerno & Don Winslow & Oliver Stone adapted the novel into a screenplay, and in less than a year, Universal Pictures secured the worldwide distribution rights. Soon after, principal photography began. Of his interest in crafting a film out of the groundbreaking novel, Stone relays: “I thought the book was well done. It’s about power, betrayal, money and questioning current values.”
Savages features multiple themes that recur in Stone’s movies: layered power struggles, shifting loyalties, examinations of the best and worst of human nature, explorations of complex family relationships and a compelling look at damaged people, some of whom find their own kind of heroism.
Stone reflects that this project called to mind Any Given Sunday and “the corporation coming into football.” About the economy of scale, he says: “Above all, it is a power move by the Mexican Cartel into the United States to cut in on the independent distributors and producers. In the movie, the Baja Cartel is more interested in volume than the boutique-sized operations. But wherever you have volume versus independent growers, you’re going to have a clash. Walmart doesn’t want to have competitors.”
Frequent Stone collaborator, producer Moritz Borman offers that there is a natural inclination to search for parallels in Savages with Stone’s earlier films, but that the director isn’t interested in retreads. Borman says: “Obviously, people will try to compare Savages to some of Oliver’s other movies, but the style and message are different, and it’s a different story. But it certainly has some of the intensity of his other pictures. He has always had something to say, and therefore has turned out these films that have survived.”
His fellow producer, Eric Kopeloff, notes that the director is as interested in characters as he is in a geopolitical backdrop: “That’s what excites him about making movies—finding a story where you can go on a ride with the characters. Oliver’s someone who never stops trying, never stops doing different things to stretch the medium.”
The translation of a lauded novel into an engaging movie is often an arduous one. For example, the film’s explosive ending, which Stone likens to a Spaghetti Western, captures the tenor of the book but doesn’t follow it to the letter. That divergence, Kopeloff notes, is part of the process of moving from one medium to another. He says: “There’s a liberty when you adapt a book into a screenplay, from a story perspective, from a time perspective. If we shot every scene in the book ‘Savages’ we would be easily sitting for five hours. We held true to the book in a lot of ways, but we also took cinematic liberties to heighten the story in certain places and give the audience a visual and character ride.”
Winslow expands upon the differences in penning a novel versus a screenplay: “Primarily, as a novelist, you have to become aware that, at the end of the day, these are two different media with a lot of different needs, and that can take a little getting used to. For instance, a chapter in a book can accomplish just one thing, whereas a scene in a film has to accomplish two or three things simultaneously. Screenwriting is an extremely demanding artistic form that has to take so many factors into account at once.”
In the story, the Baja Cartel admires Ben and Chon’s product and process and wants to acquire their business. However, they disdain their lifestyle, especially their unorthodox relationship with O. On the flip side, Ben, Chon and O are as equally repulsed by the Cartel and their methods. At various points, as the contest between the Cartel and Ben, Chon and O becomes increasingly ruthless and violent; just who is the savage becomes blurry and subjective at best. Stone sums: “It’s ironic that both sides identify the other as savages.”
Taglines: Some guests never check out.
Writer / director Ti West: I’m a skeptic as it is, but I had some weird electric things in my room. The light bulbs would burn out all the time and the TV would turn off and on by itself. It was really just a vibe – it felt like someone was in the room with you. It may sound bogus and just like what everyone else says, but I don’t ever feel that way in my life. Ever.”
Producer Derek Curl: I felt a ghost – I didn’t see a ghost. But I’m also very sensitive to them. I was sitting in bed and actually jumped off because I felt something push up against me…I think the ghosts here really have a bathroom fetish, because they love screwing with people’s bathrooms, whether it’s the water coming on, the lights flickering, doors shutting…
Actress Sara Paxton: It was unsettling living in that inn! One night I was in my bed reading a book after dinner; the windows were closed and suddenly the bathroom door slams and the light flicks on! It freaked me out – I was frozen. It must have been a breeze, I thought, but how could there a breeze when the windows are closed?
Cinematographer Eliot Rockett: I’m the old guy – practically everyone else on the shoot was 30 or under. The whole haunted hotel thing, whatever, I didn’t experience any of that. But this hotel is crooked and weird and not quite right.
Producer Peter Phok: I remember hearing the stories of The Yankee Pedlar being haunted from Luke, the night watchman, when we were here making The House Of The Devil. Personally, I’m not a superstitious person – I’ve got to see it before I believe it. That said, there’s definitely a creepy vibe at this hotel.
Actor Pat Healy: I’m not a believer in ghosts, but I did experience the weird atmosphere of that place, that town. And there were times when we were shooting those “scare moments” when I really felt it.
Line Producer Jacob Jaffke: Everyone had really crazy dreams. The same thing happened when we were making The House of the Devil and staying at the very same hotel. It kind of felt like you were watching Videodrome on acid in the rain…that is the only way I can describe the feeling you would have when you woke up with after a night’s sleep in the Pedlar.
Actress Kelly McGillis: I never had any experiences of being “haunted” when I was there. The Yankee Pedlar was a little creepy, yes, but it also had an interesting charm to it.
Related Link: Read full production notes for The Innkeepers
Before production, Bezucha had said shooting in Paris was going to be a wild ride, and he wasn’t kidding. After landing June 19th at Charles de Gaulle Airport on an early morning chartered flight from Budapest, the production shot scenes of Grace, Emma and Meg arriving at, well, Charles de Gaulle. The next four days were just as hectic.
The following Monday, the cast and crew ascended the Eiffel Tower for the first of two “half-days” shooting atop the famed monument. “Here we were, watching the sun rise over Paris, from a great vantage point on the most famous landmark in the world,” says Katie Cassidy. “It’s one of the moments you have to check yourself and appreciate.” “I’ll never forget the Eiffel Tower shoot,” says Selena Gomez. “Yeah, it was freezing cold [Paris was having record-breaking cold temperatures], but I got an unbelievable view of Paris. Amazing.”
A few days later, the production moved to the Louvre Museum. Established in 1793, the Louvre is the most famous museum in the world. It houses 35,000 pieces of art, including Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa,” and the “Venus of Milo” sculpture. Only 50 cast and crew are allowed into Room 77, where shooting occurred.
The next day, Leighton, Selena and Katie, along with Luke Bracey, filmed scenes on the steps of the renowned Sacre Coeur Basilica, built in 1873, located atop the hilly Montemarte. Here, Meg stumbles upon Riley, the first of a series of chance encounters that ultimately flower into romance. The Sacre Coeur attracts millions of visitors – among them, Owen, who, in desperate search of Emma, uses its marvelous terrace as a lookout point from which to scan the city’s horizon, and reference its landmarks with his folding map.
The company shot exterior scenes at the Louvre Museum and driving scenes on several Paris streets June 24th before heading to Monte Carlo. To enable Selena, Katie and Meg to live their characters’ experience, the producers put them up at Monte Carlo’s Hotel de Paris. “If method acting includes staying at this awesome hotel and puttering around in luxurious bathrobes, count me in,” Katie Cassidy laughs.
The first day of shooting in Monaco took place not at the hotel, but at Larvotto Beach, where the gals don swimsuits, soak up the sun, and exchange frank opinions about the status of their strained relationship. On June 28, the first of two days of interior shooting began with Cordelia’s arrival at the Hotel de Paris. Located next door to the legendary casino, the Hotel de Paris exudes luxury, ostentation and regality. Built in 1864, the exquisite Art Noveau structure features marble pillars, crystal chandeliers, Louis XVI chairs, a lush array of tapestries, and, in the lobby, glass enclosed luxury items such as gold jewelry and diamond necklaces. Expensive sport and luxury cars – Bugatti, Rolls Royce, Lamborghini, Masserati, Ferrari, Aston Martin – are routinely parked around the oval medium in the parking lot. The avaricious auto display routinely attracts daily throngs of admirers, even when a film production hasn’t upped the ante.
Production was halted several times during shooting to accommodate VIPs arriving for meetings at the Hotel, including ambassadors, dignitaries, and even Monaco’s Prince Albert II himself. An enthusiastic supporter of Monaco’s film industry, the prince dropped by to greet the cast and filmmakers.
On July 2, production filmed at a stunningly beautiful cliffside location near Antibes, France known as ‘Eilenroc’ – an anagram of Cornelie, wife of the wealthy Dutchman who had the palace commissioned and built in 1874 (from a design by heralded architect Charles Garner). Overlooking some of the world’s most valuable real estate along the French Riviera, Eilenrock became in 1927 the property of the American businessman Louis Beaumont and his opera singer wife, Helen, who hosted many fabulous soirees that attracted privileged guests from throughout the region. Helen donated the palace and surrounding gardens in 1982 to a land conservancy. Today it is used for public gatherings and theater productions. Its beachside landing below, not easily accessible, provides a picturesque setting for scenes between Meg and Riley, who climb a 20-foot rock some 30 yards from the shore, and share some emotional accounts of their recent difficult pasts.
Having already depicted a “Texas” high school in Budapest, the art department again “cheated” the Lone Star state in France in the form of a roadside diner. Here, in opening scenes of the movie, Grace and Emma wait on snotty classmates and dream of their Paris getaway. Location scouts managed to find, 35 minutes outside Monaco, a suitable locale that was once a Pizza Hut restaurant. In 2008, the building was converted into a steakhouse restaurant that is part of the popular Courtepaille chain in France.
Working an all-night shift from midnight to just moments before shooting began at 8 am on July 5, Lucyzc-Wyhowski and his team built a fake wall to hide the exposed kitchen, rearranged the dining room layout, and added ceiling fans, a partition, red fabric benches and casual wooden chairs and tables. Presto! A Texas diner.
Principal photography on MONTE CARLO wrapped on July 8 with an all-night shoot at the marina. On a warm, sunny night, replete with breathtaking views of Port Hercule harbor and the surrounding cityscapes of Monaco, the crew shot Emma’s dream date with Prince Domenico, aboard a yacht. A few hundred yards away sat the 400-foot-long Atlantis II, one of the largest yachts in the world.
Selena Gomez completed her work on the film the previous night, but comes out to support Katie Cassidy, who showers her with affection. “Classy gal, that Selena,” says Cassidy.
Director Tom Bezucha concludes: “Like The Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy Gale, our characters have to experience their own remarkable journey to appreciate what is missing in their lives and, even more, to appreciate what they already have. And the one who has the biggest vision of herself in a larger world realizes she’s most content and most herself at home.”
For Selena Gomez, who has been in Europe since March, when she began a publicity tour for her album, the five months shooting MONTE CARLO was an extraordinary, challenging, and physically demanding experience. And one she will never forget. “I feel very much like I have gone through a lot of what Grace did,” she says. “I’ve learned a lot, I’ve been able to do and see some amazing things, and I have shared the company of some people I’ve grown to love. And I turned 18. The whole thing is an amazing blessing, and I grateful for it all.”
Those two tantalizing words at the close of 2009’s “Sherlock Holmes” promised audiences that more adventures lie ahead. Now “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” fulfills that promise, bringing the legendary detective back to the big screen in a new action-packed mystery that reunites the stars and filmmakers behind that worldwide hit.
Director Guy Ritchie says, “I was very keen to return to Sherlock Holmes’ world because the experience of making the first movie was so positive, both personally and creatively. There were a myriad of story possibilities in revisiting this character because he has so many interesting facets. His idiosyncrasies almost transcend description, so I wanted the opportunity to explore that more, while giving audiences something they hadn’t seen.”
Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes” had redefined Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic character for a new generation, with Robert Downey Jr. creating his own unique incarnation of the role, alongside Jude Law as Holmes’ friend, partner, and occasional foil, Dr. John Watson.
Producer Joel Silver states, “There was a kind of magic that came out of the dynamic between Robert and Jude as Holmes and Watson, and this film gave us a chance to take that up a notch. In the first movie, we had to give audiences the time to get to know the foibles of the characters. Coming into this movie, we had already laid the foundation, so we could launch right into the action, which is bigger, funnier and more explosive in every sense of the word.”
“First and foremost,” Robert Downey Jr. adds, “we wanted to maintain the visceral tone that was part of Guy’s original vision, while presenting Holmes with an even more difficult case, one that would challenge his considerable skills.”
That challenge arises out of the threat from a redoubtable adversary, one whose name is familiar to anyone with even a passing knowledge of the Sherlock Holmes canon: Professor James Moriarty.
“We needed a mystery that raises the bar for Holmes, so we pitted him against his most famous foe,” notes producer Susan Downey. “At the end of the last film, Sherlock fleetingly learned of Moriarty from Irene Adler. In the time elapsed, he has become increasingly obsessed with what Moriarty is up to and has only begun to realize the breadth of his plan.”
Producer Lionel Wigram comments, “Moriarty is the greatest criminal mastermind in the world. He is a genius—albeit a mad genius—but because he is so brilliant, Holmes may have met his match.”
Ritchie emphasizes, “Because they are intellectual equals to a degree, there is the sense that this is a game that is stimulating to them both. In this way, they actually need each other, and that idea is authentic to the books. Holmes needs Moriarty as much as Moriarty needs Holmes.”
To write the screenplay, the producers enlisted husband-and-wife writing team Kieran and Michele Mulroney, with the latter being exceptionally well-versed in the source material. She offers, “Growing up in England, I remember reading the books and being awed by the weird and wonderful way Holmes’ mind worked. It was a joy to revisit the original stories and still marvel at the inventiveness and intricacies of Arthur Conan Doyle’s mysteries.”
In fact, true Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts will notice that the filmmakers paid homage to the author by incorporating some of Conan Doyle’s language in the dialogue.
The screenwriters also felt a responsibility to do justice to the story’s villain, as well as its heroes. “We knew that whatever dire scheme Moriarty had up his sleeve, it had to feel insurmountable,” Kieran Mulroney confirms. “The stakes needed to be proportionate to the professor’s appetite for evil, which is obviously huge. Our goal was to push Holmes and Watson to their limits in pursuit of this man…to test their relationship even more than in the last film.”
“I was thrilled that the connection between Holmes and Watson, as we had developed it, was still very much the heart and soul of the story,” says Jude Law, who returns in the role of Watson.
Producer Dan Lin, who had worked with the Mulroneys before, observes, “Kieran and Michele’s script explores the evolution of Holmes and Watson’s relationship after the first movie—with Sherlock ready for the next case, and Watson engaged to Mary and planning to settle down and step away from the life of a private detective. What does this mean for their future? And how will the world survive without them, especially with Sherlock’s most formidable nemesis, Professor Moriarty, on the loose?”
Everyone gets old. Not evedlore grows up.
Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) is a divorced, 37-year-old ghost writer of a series of young adult novels, who is on deadline with her editor to finish the last book of the soon-to-be-cancelled series. Mavis receives an e-mail with a picture of the newborn daughter of her high school boyfriend Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) and his wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser). Believing this to be a sign she and Buddy are meant to be together, Mavis leaves Minneapolis and returns to her hometown of Mercury, Minnesota, to reclaim her life with Buddy, under the pretext of overseeing a real estate deal.
Upon arriving after listening to “The Concept” by Teenage Fanclub on repeat from an old mixtape Buddy gave her in high school, Mavis arranges to meet him the next day at a local sports bar, for old times’ sake. In the interim, she goes alone to a different bar, Woody’s. There she reconnects with a former classmate she barely remembers, Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), who became disabled after being beaten by jocks who erroneously assumed he was gay. Matt tells Mavis that her plan to destroy Buddy’s marriage is irrational and selfish, but she ignores him.
The following day, Mavis meets Buddy at the sports bar, where they run into Matt, the bar’s bookkeeper. On their way out, Buddy invites Mavis to a performance of Beth’s “mom rock band”. In the interim, Mavis spends another night getting drunk with Matt, who distills homemade bourbon in the garage of the house he shares with his sister Sandra. When Mavis attends the concert of Beth’s band, the other moms are resentful of Mavis, whom they remember as the “psychotic prom queen bitch”. When Beth’s band performs, the lead singer dedicates their opening song to Buddy from Beth; much to Mavis’s dismay, it is “The Concept”.
Beth wants to stay out longer, so Mavis offers to drive the drunk Buddy home. On the lawn they share a kiss that is quickly broken up when the babysitter opens the front door to greet them. The next day, after an awkward encounter with her parents, Mavis is invited to Buddy’s daughter’s naming ceremony. She later goes out drinking with Matt again, during which Matt tells Mavis to grow up.
The following day, Mavis attends the party, where she declares her love for Buddy, but he rebuffs her. Everyone at the party is called out to the lawn to await a surprise Buddy has prepared for Beth. Mavis, who has been drinking at the party, collides with Beth, who accidentally spills punch on Mavis’s dress. Mavis insults her, and in a profanity-laced tirade tearfully reveals she became pregnant with Buddy’s baby years ago, but had a miscarriage after three months.
Buddy, who has been preparing a drum-set gift for Beth in the garage, opens the garage door and belatedly learns what has transpired. Mavis asks him why he invited her. He reveals it was Beth’s idea, as she feels sorry for Mavis. Humiliated, Mavis leaves the party and visits Matt, where she breaks down in tears and, later, initiates sex.
The following morning, while Matt sleeps, Mavis has coffee in the kitchen with Sandra, who still idolizes her. Mavis talks about needing to change herself, but Sandra says Mavis is better than the rest of Mercury and should not change. Mavis says she agrees, and prepares to return to Minneapolis. Sandra asks to go with her but Mavis declines and leaves alone.
Young Adult is an American comedy-drama film directed by Jason Reitman, from a screenplay written by Diablo Cody, and starring Charlize Theron. Reitman and Cody worked together previously on Juno (2007). Young Adult had a limited release on December 9, 2011, and a wide release on December 16 to generally positive reviews.
Related Link: Read the Full Production Notes for Young Adult
“The Artist” began filming in Los Angeles in November 2010, and shot for 35 days. The stylistic approach of THE ARTIST necessitated the use of some special equipment and techniques, in part to accommodate the 1.33 format. For Schiffman, the effort was well worth it. “It’s not by chance that cinema was invented with this format. It allows beautiful close-ups; it allows you to compose the picture differently, to have diagonals, to create perspectives. It was heaven! It is a bit more complicated to light because you have to place the projectors a lot higher. I understood why the studios of the time were 8 meters high. So I had to learn how to light with very tall sets, and more powerful sources. And I used a lot of old projectors from the ’50s and ’60s.”
Paradoxically, perhaps, modern black and white film stock turned out to be too precise and sharp-looking for THE ARTIST. As a result, Schiffman used 500 ASA color film that could impart a grainer look, and used unusual filters to achieve the diffused whites and underplayed blacks.
The cast of THE ARTIST found themselves in an unusual situation when the cameras began to roll. As Cromwell describes it, “As an actor, you have to trust that something you can’t see — namely your own face — is expressing all that you feel and need to communicate to tell the story.” He notes that there were technical differences as well, because they were shooting at 28 frames per second versus the more common 24 frames per second. “You have to adjust to the slightly faster film speed by sustaining the moment a fraction longer to allow the audience to ‘read’ the intention and adjust their perception.”
“For the actors, shooting this film was a very particular exercise,” Hazanavicius acknowledges. “For most actors, the voice is a great asset. Suddenly, they had to make do without it. Text is an essential aid to convey feelings, but here, everything had to be conveyed visually, with no help from words, breath, pauses, tone, all the variations actors normally use. I think that what they had to do was very difficult, even more so than usual.”
As George Valentin, Dujardin travelled an emotional landscape that went from light to dark and back again. “It was exciting to start with this character who is always showing off, in front of the camera, with his fans, with his wife, but then slides gradually into darker waters. At first I was nervous about those more serious scenes, for which I had no lines to hold on to. But I discovered that silent film was almost an advantage. You just have to think of the feeling for it to show. No lines come to pollute it. It doesn’t take much – a gaze, an eyelash flutter – for the emotion to be vivid.”
He trusted Hazanavicius to give him the guidance he needed, without imposing too much. “Michel puts you, with great sensitivity and without any wickedness, on the track of these darker feelings, painful emotions. He lets you go and find them yourself, though he no hesitation in asking you to go even further. I appreciate very much that he leaves you get on with your work as an actor.”
Making a silent did bring a major, very welcome advantage during filming: silence was not required on the set. They actors could speak their lines to one another, and Hazanavicius could, and did, speak to them as they were filming. Says Béjo, “Without cutting, Michel could give us indications to make us go from one emotion to another. It was interesting and rewarding, because it made you search for something else in the heat of the moment.”
Hazanavicius also played music on set, ranging from classic Hollywood scores and early themes composed by Bource to individual songs he knew would resonate with the players. “It made our lives easier because it allowed us to overplay with the voice and not be embarrassed; it carried us wonderfully,” says Béjo. “Certain pieces of music will carry you away immediately if you listen to them just before an emotional scene. Michel always knew which music to play. For the scene where I get off the bus and arrive at the studio for an audition he played ‘Day for Night.’ It’s so cheerful that I was immediately transported: it gave me wings!”
Dujardin and Béjo may have had few lines to learn, but there was one thing they had to study: dance, specifically tap dance. Both spent months taking dance and tap lessons, and then spent a few weeks working on choreography together. When they day came to film the tap dance number that brings THE ARTIST to its jubilant conclusion, they were ready. Remembers Dujardin, “We knew that Michel would cut as little as possible, which made it more exciting. We had to remember our steps and at the same time maintain expression, grace and feeling. Of course there were two of us playing that scene: not only did we need some know-how, we also had to have a rapport. Luckily, that’s easy with Bérénice. We were the first to say at the end of each take: ‘Let’s do it again!’”
Of all his co-stars, Dujardin had the most scenes with Uggie, a Jack Russell terrier with several films to his credit. “Uggie can steal a scene, no problem. Frankly, it was very simple to work with him,” Dujardin confides. “I just had to listen to the trainers, who did their job very well. The only problem was keeping bits of sausage in my pocket all day long so he would obey. Some days I felt like I was just a great big sausage!”
Locations were an invaluable element to creating mood on-set and onscreen. Throughout the shoot, cast and crew were stepping into Hollywood history. The theater sequences were shot at two historic downtown movie palaces: the Orpheum Theater, where the premiere sequence was shot; and the Los Angeles Theater, a destination at different times for George and Peppy. Exterior scenes were also shot on the backlots of Warner Bros. and Paramount. Scenes at Kinograph Studios were filmed at RED Studios Hollywood, which began its life in 1915 as a Metro Pictures (later MGM) backlot and over the decades saw the production of films including HIGH NOON and DOA and the television series of Desilu Productions. The landmark Bradbury Building in downtown Los Angeles provided the most magnificent staircases in the city – perfect for a key scene when George and Peppy unexpectedly encounter one another.
George’s impressive mansion was located in Hancock Park, an affluent neighborhood that was developed in the 1920s and favored by the city’s business and civic elite. A second, smaller home in Hancock Park served as the post-stardom residence of Peppy Miller; in a stroke of serendipity, the filmmakers learned that pioneering silent star Mary Pickford had lived in the house in the years prior to her marriage to Douglas Fairbanks.
Though THE ARTIST shot on a tight schedule with many long days, the atmosphere on the set was merry and convivial. Fittingly for a movie in which language plays a small role, it didn’t much matter whether a person spoke French or English as their first language. Remembers Béjo, “Everybody had a sense that they were doing something special and they were proud to be part of it. We felt like a crew, not French/American, just a crew talking about movies, Hollywood, a profession that we love. It was very special.”
Long before the phrase “interactive entertainment” was formed, silent movies thrived on the fact the viewers created their own narratives as the image unspooled. Comments Hazanavicius, “There’s no spoken language, so you are very close to the story, very close to the characters. As a viewer, you participate in the storytelling. It’s hypnotic. And in a black and white movie — and it’s more obvious with the silent format – the actors are so beautiful. They speak but you don’t hear them; it’s like in they are gods on Olympus.
Watching a silent, I get the same feeling I had when I was a child looking at the movies in theaters. I wanted to share that experience with an audience today.”
People often refer to film as a “universal language,” a concept that Penelope Ann Miller recalled when she attended the world premiere of THE ARTST at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. “There were all of these people from all over the world watching this film. A lot of them didn’t speak French or English. And people sat back in their chairs with a huge grin on their faces, captivated in an almost childlike way.”
Related Link: Read the Full Production Notes for The Artist
“The Artist” is Hazanavicius’s third film with director of photography Guillaume Schiffman, who shot both OSS comedies. “With Guillaume, it’s more than just collaboration,” Hazanavicius remarks. “We’ve done films together, we’ve done ads together, and we know each other very well. As soon as I had the idea of THE ARTIST, I talked to him about it. I gave him tons of films to watch and he did a lot of professional research about the techniques, cameras and lenses of the time. The idea was the same for all us, on both sides of the camera: do some research; nourish ourselves; understand the rules thoroughly in order to be able to forget them at the end.”
Hazanavicius had storyboarded the entire screenplay for THE ARTIST, and during pre-production he and Schiffman spent countless hours looking at these blueprints and discussing their options. In a black and white silent movie, lighting and color scale become critical tools of the storytelling, Schiffman points out. “Because there’s no dialogue, light has to tell you something, the shadows have to tell you something. Michel told me how he envisaged the story, how he was going to play with the blacks and whites, shadow and light, and a lot of grays.
What fascinating about Michel is that he never loses sight of the story he wants to tell. You can’t produce only beautiful images and lose the audience in the process. The goal isn’t to make the audience go ‘Wow!’ at each shot but to captivate them and, in this case, to move them.” Schiffman describes the film as a rare creative opportunity. “A black and white movie; 1.33 format; 20s and 30s style: it’s a dream come true for a cinematographer. What a pleasure to revisit this moment of cinema history, particularly today, when we are moving towards digital supremacy.”
As pre-production got underway in Los Angeles, news of THE ARTIST spread quickly in the film community. The black and white style and period setting offered interesting and unusual work for all the industry’s trades: set design, costume design, hair and makeup, camera, electric, etc. Hazanavicius was delighted to find himself surrounded by some of best and most experienced professionals in Los Angeles, all of them eager to contribute. “Everyone got very excited,” the filmmaker smiles. “I think people appreciated the fact that this was a movie about their profession. People from the camera department offered to make special lenses, old projectors were pulled out of closets … it was very special.”
One of the earliest hires was production designer Laurence Bennett, who has worked extensively with writer/director Paul Haggis on films including the Oscar-winning CRASH. Hazanavicius notes that he had very specific elements he wanted to incorporate into the film’s design, responsibilities that Bennett took on. “THE ARTIST is about the fall of an actor, so I was always looking for locations with stairs. I wanted the actors to go down, and down, and down, sequence after sequence,” says Hazanavicius. “It’s the same with mirrors; it’s the idea of representation because George is an actor. There are always many George Valentins in the frame. Larry brought his own sensibility to the production design, while achieving all the very precise effects I asked him to create. He did a great job.”
Academy Award-nominated costume designer Mark Bridges (THERE WILL BE BLOOD) faced the challenge of dressing the primary cast and between 150-200 extras, who appear as everything from formally attired moviegoers to movie studio personnel. Bridges had grown up going to revival houses to see classic films, including silents like WINGS and Chaplin’s MODERN TIMES, and working on THE ARTIST Bridges studied movies, old publicity stills and day-in-the-life candid photos to get a feel for the impeccable tailoring of the era and the elegant clothing that a movie star like George Valentin would have worn in his leisure time. For the character of Peppy Miller, he found inspiration in early Joan Crawford films, which captures her evolution from average chorus girl to dynamic jazz baby and finally to glamorous star. The silent backstage comedy SHOW PEOPLE provided clues about what studio workers wore, as did a 1925 documentary short made on the MGM lot.
Bridges found both garments and ideas in Hollywood’s professional costume shops, including The Collection at Western Costume, Motion Picture Costume Company, United American Costume Company, and Palace Costume Company. “Here in Hollywood, we’re really set up to do a movie like THE ARTIST. I could go to any of these costume shops I regularly use, go through 100 dresses or 50 dresses, and something would read to me ‘Peppy,’” he says.
Milliners freshened and re-blocked hats that had spent decades in boxes. Vintage shoes were copied, as were some vintage garments that were too fragile or dilapidated to be worn. Some garments were in fine condition and were used in the film, including a nightgown worn by Béjo and a tennis dress Bridges found in a shop. Hazanavicius was impressed by Bridge’s talent and work ethic.
“Mark Bridges knows everything, and I think he works maybe thirty hours a day!” the director enthuses. “He’s very perceptive and he knows that small details can be very powerful. For example, there’s an ellipse from ’29 to ’31, when George’s decline accelerates. I asked Mark to adjust Jean’s costume, and to make it a little bit larger so we have the feeling that his character has shrunken a little bit. And Mark did that, very subtly, with a lot of taste. His work throughout brought so much to the film.”
Music is an indispensable part of silent film storytelling, serving variously as emphasis and counterpoint to the actions and emotions onscreen. For this critical element, Hazanavicius turned to his longtime collaborator Ludovic Bource, who has scored all the director’s films since his feature debut, 1998’s LES AMIS.
Like the other collaborators working on the film, Bource did his homework, listening to scores by legendary Hollywood composers such as Max Steiner, Franz Waxman and Bernard Hermann; music written by Chaplin for his films; and the 19th Century composers whose work was the foundation of Steiner, et al. With that knowledge absorbed, Bource was then free to write the score that would help tell the story of THE ARTIST. He began working on the score before production began, coming up with melodies and themes based on the screenplay and storyboards.
Once production began, Hazanavicius sent him rushes on a regular basis. “I immersed myself in the rushes as they came in, and in the performances of Bérénice and Jean,” Bource remembers. “Watching these magnificent images as they arrived was very inspiring. The hardest thing, particularly with Jean’s character George, was to respect the combination of comedy and emotion. As a result, rather than pastiche or spoof, we worked – a bit like Chaplin – along the lines of a light sophistication. And for the tap dance sequence, I wrote music that was essentially big band / jazz, which was a pleasure.”
Work continued on the film’s music continued during the editing process, when Bource worked with Hazanavicius to refine the music and match it to the final scenes. Bource recorded the score in Brussels with the Flanders Philharmonic Orchestra. Says Bource, “I recorded with 80 musicians: 50 string players, 4 French horns, 4 trombones, 5 percussionists who ran around all over the place, a harpist, 10 technicians, 5 orchestrators, 3 mixers – it was sublime. I was lucky enough to get marvelous people. They told me it had been a long time since they had felt this way while recording the music for a film. It was very moving and gratifying.”
Related Link: Read the Full Production Notes for The Artist
David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method” began life as a screenplay in the mid-1990’s. Academy Award winning screenwriter Christopher Hampton had a keen interest in psychoanalysis, and spent a great deal of time researching the relationships between Jung, Freud and Sabina, visiting the Burghölzli hospital in Zurich where he read her case history.
These intelligent figures greatly appealed to Hampton, as he explains, “These people were pioneers and psychoanalysis was a revolutionary idea. It opened many closets and revealed many taboos. At the end of the nineteenth century, great currents of new ideas were brought into being which opened up a whole new way of thinking about society.”
Hampton went on to develop the material into a stage play called The Talking Cure, which had a successful run at the National Theatre in London with Ralph Fiennes starring as Jung. A few years later, acclaimed auteur David Cronenberg asked Hampton to adapt the play into a new screenplay for him to direct.
As Cronenberg elaborates, “In Christopher Hampton’s original play I knew I had found a rich vein to mine for the screen. This tale of emotional variance, overshadowed by the portents of WWI, promised an insight into two intense and inextricably interwoven relationships. The fact that the characters were gifted true-life figures, and that the triangle of Jung, Freud and Sabina resulted in the birth of modern psychoanalysis, made it all the more tantalizing to me.”
Hampton began to develop his play, weaving historical events and quotes from the real-life personalities into a dramatic story of a debate of ideas. Cronenberg took the project to his good friend Jeremy Thomas (the Academy Award winning independent producer), who has a reputation for working with highly individual filmmakers and had previously teamed with Cronenberg to make the critically acclaimed and award-winning films Crash and Naked Lunch. For Thomas, the appeal was immediate.
As he explains, “The exciting pairing of director David Cronenberg with the great playwright and screenwriter Christopher Hampton would be too rare an event for me to miss. The opportunity to work with David again on a project of such note seemed a natural fit with this very interesting clash of ideas on screen. There is an enormous amount of dueling in the dialogue which I thought could be very attractive to watch when played by very good actors, and have an impact on an audience when directed by a wonderful director with a magnificent score.”
For Hampton, the opportunity to work with Cronenberg, a filmmaker he admired, was one he approached with relish: “I think David has a unique combination of extremely cool objectivity, and pretty violent engagement. A really original combination which fits this story very well, because it’s a story about people who are attempting to operate the rules of civilization and steer their patients towards ‘the norm’, whilst becoming increasingly aware that there is no norm and that they themselves, like all of us in certain respects, live right out on the wild fringes and have to cope with these contradictions as best we can. David is a wonderful director to encompass these contradictions and make sense of them.”
For his part, Cronenberg was captivated by the idea of directing a film about three charismatic figures from history, including Sabina; a relatively unknown figure who greatly influenced both men professionally. As he says, “Sabina was someone who contributed hugely to the theories of both men, something that no one knew until a cache of letters was discovered, her letters to and from Freud and Jung, and their letters to her. Their passion came through their articulation, their theories and their abstract thoughts. They were really quite fascinating people and it’s a fantastic story.”
For Thomas, a producer widely recognized for his distinctive films, this little-known story was one he knew he had to bring to the screen, “I have always been drawn to make unusual stories that often involve extreme behavior. At the heart of A Dangerous Method is a fascinating story that highlights how even those who understand humanity best can fall prey to mankind’s most basic emotions. Love, sexual passion, ambition, deceit, emotional breakdowns, explosive disagreements and apocalyptic dreams set the foundation for the pivotal moment when Jung, Freud and Sabina came together and then split, forever changing the face of modern thought. These intimate dynamics twinned with the broader span of history is what makes this film irresistible for me.”
Related Link: Read the Full Production Notes for A Dangerous Method
“My grandfather, he really loved this place. So did your mother. So does your mother.” — Matt King
A strong sense of place has always been a hallmark of Alexander Payne‘s work but with THE DESCENDANTS it would become even more central. From the beginning, he and his crew of frequent collaborators were acutely aware that they were going where few filmmakers have gone before by following an intimate family drama into the lush fabric of Hawaii. All of the conflicting juxtapositions of contemporary Hawaiian culture – modern and ancient, urban and wild, growth and preservation – became wrapped into the film‘s design, from the photography to the sets.
The newest of the U.S. states, Hawaiian history goes back 1500 years, when Polynesian explorers first sailed canoes by the light of the stars to the fertile string of volcanic islands. Later, settlers arrived from across Polynesia – Tahiti, Samoa and Tonga – forging a distinctive matriarchal culture with its own language, customs, art forms and legends. In 1810, King Kamehameha, Chief of the Big Island, united all the islands into one Hawaiian Kingdom.
Soon after, Christian missionaries began to arrive, followed by colonialists from mainland United States. In 1893, a group of American businessmen overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy, paving the way for annexation. Meanwhile, the culture continued to evolve and adapt, merging elements of American values with native Hawaiian ways. When Hawaii became a U.S. state in 1959, it was dubbed the Aloha state, reflecting the impossible-to-translate Hawaiian word that conveys an open-hearted spirit rooted in a love of the land.
To capture the islands as they are today – as rife with developers and suburbia as they are with laid-back surfers and Polynesian traditions — with a fresh eye, Payne reunited with director of photography Phedon Papamichael, who previously worked with him on SIDEWAYS. As soon as he read the script, Papamichael knew it was going to be something different. It was a very dialogue-driven story, which usually means the film will be less visual, he begins. But in the case, the opposite was true. Because of the way the Hawaiian setting is juxtaposed with the King family’s struggles, the visuals take on a major role. It was going to be very important to capture the beauty and nature of the surrounding environment so you can understand the conflict Matt feels over selling his family‘s land.
Papamichael divided the film between two Hawaiis: the more hectic, citified Hawaii of Honolulu and the stunning, natural Mecca of Hanalei Bay on the island of Kauai, draped with verdant, tropical rainforests and surrounded by sapphire seas. ¯We really wanted to give a feeling for the community in Honolulu but also the beauty of the coast so you understand what could be lost and the connection to history that is there. That‘s why we decided to shoot wide-screen, which Alexander has only done once before, on ELECTION, he explains. We decided that it would be a lot of fun to have that epic frame with these small, human figures confronted with the majesty of the landscape.
At the same time, both men wanted the film to stay true to Payne‘s distinctively unadorned style, which is almost an anti-style. I like to bring an almost documentary style to fiction filmmaking, says Payne. It gives the story a sense of reportage.
Papamichael concurs. “With Alexander, one of the biggest assignments is always to make sure the photography doesn‘t get in the way of the story. He really loves realism, to the point that if we go to a location and there are tree trimmers working nearby”, he says “great” and he embraces that as part of what‘s going on in the scene, he explains. Or, for example, when we shot in the bar where George Clooney meets Beau Bridges, it was very important to Alexander to have the real locals who frequent the place be in there to get that feel of reality. The same goes for lighting. It‘s always very natural, to the point that the audience should never realize that they‘re watching a crafted film.
He continues, “We really want the audience to be taken in by the characters without distraction. The emotions are so intense and the writing so strong, we don‘t need to add visual drama.”
Hawaii, however, often brought its own drama. The light there is challenging because it is constantly changing, notes Papamichael. It can go from overcast to sunny in the time frame of one shot. Fortunately, both Alexander and George, being a filmmaker himself, are very good at reacting in the moment so you can switch scenes around. It gave us a lot of flexibility.
Some of the filming for THE DESCENDANTS also took place off terra firma – in swimming pools and the ocean. Legendary underwater photographer Don King came in to help with the scene where Shailene Woodley releases a primal scream while at the depths of the family swimming pool.
Recalls Woodley, “He waited for me underwater with this crazy-looking camera. I would submerge myself and swim towards him and he would swim backwards super quickly, timing it perfectly with me. It was a fantastic scene to shoot.”
One of Papamichael‘s favorite experiences on THE DESCENDANTS was filming the climax of Matt‘s road trip as the Kings arrive at their ancestral land on Kauai and young Scottie makes Matt rethink the idea of selling it to strangers. We designed the shot so the family drives up the mountain but you‘re not really aware of what‘s coming. It almost feels like a normal tracking shot but then, as they come to the edge of the land, we boom up and reveal this spectacular view, and suddenly, the characters are overwhelmed by the beauty. That was one of my favorites, sums up Papamichael.
Payne also reunited with production designer Jane Ann Stewart, who has worked on all of his films since the very beginning of his career. Stewart says that Payne‘s aesthetic instincts jibe with hers. His sense of humor is very much like mine – absurd, a little macabre and where nothing in the human condition is above comedy, she says.
She knew her work was cut out for her when Payne approached her for this film. We both had to learn a lot about Hawaiian culture, and really immerse ourselves in it, so we could get to the history, the sense of place and the texture behind the story, she explains.
In creating Matt King‘s house, Stewart consulted both with the novel and its author, Kaui Hart Hemmings. “Kaui‘s advice was invaluable,” says Stewart. “For example, she introduced me to the punee [the casual Hawaiian daybeds often used as sprawling sofas] and helped us to reflect the family‘s history in the details.”
When Stewart found a local house that had the right feel, it was missing one key element – the sprawling banyan tree that graced the front yard in the book. So Stewart had one transplanted. It kind of reflects the idea of family because of the way each branch reaches in and plants itself, she observes.
As with the cinematography, Stewart‘s challenge was to keep things in Payne‘s favored realm of stark reality, but with a tropical twist. Alexander always wants the veneer to be authentic, even a little bit banal. But this film was a chance for me to stretch things a bit with the colors and exotic essence of the place. I just had to have a very good reason for putting anything, a piece of furniture or painting, in a room. It had to support the characters and stay true to the place.
That authenticity to Hawaii deeply moved Hemmings when she visited the set – and she could see her story coming to life, reflecting the funny and fraught ways that families, on or off the islands, really interact and bond. “It was amazing for me to be back in Hanalei Bay, where my own descendants first landed,” she says, “and it meant a lot to see the cast and crew getting to know this special, special place. It was a chance for me to reconnect with my own family and it brought the community together. Writing a book is such a solitary thing, but with a movie, the beauty is in sharing the experience.”
Bursting with Olympian deities, sweeping battles and breathtaking vistas, Immortals demanded a larger-than-life production style. From its inception, the film’s creators knew that to bring the dynamic story fully to life, it would have to be a 3D movie—and not just an ordinary 3D movie. “Tarsem has a rare kind of vision,” says Tucker Tooley of Relativity Media. “He looks at the world through a different lens and brings something to the story you would never anticipate. To realize that unique point of view, we designed the movie in 3-D from the beginning. We tailored everything about the film to maximize the stereo effects.”
However, shooting the film using conventional 2D cameras and creating the 3-D effects in postproduction gave the director more control of the depth and dynamic range than would have been possible shooting in 3-D. “Every element had to be considered,” says Tooley. “Before we shot a single frame, we designed our foreground and background elements in a way that optimized the dimensionalization process.”
Singh worked with senior stereographer David Stump of 3DCG to develop a detailed depth budget and depth script that helped ensure that the look of the picture conformed to the director’s vision. “You can see the difference immediately,” says the director. “We took the time and, most importantly, put in the planning to do it properly. Some people are calling this a game-changer.”
The movie’s groundbreaking look was executed by Prime Focus, the 3D effects house that had previously dimensionalized such blockbusters as Star Wars: Episode One – The Phantom Menace and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. Recent advances in technology, including Prime Focus’ proprietary View-D software, allowed Singh the flexibility to create visuals unlike any that have been seen before.
With 4,000 artists and technicians spread across three continents, Prime Focus dedicated significant resources to realizing Singh’s ambitious vision. “The great challenge in every movie is really adapting an entire team of artists to meet the needs of that director,” says Prime Focus marketing executive Bobby Jaffee. “What George Lucas or Michael Bay want for their movies has nothing to do with what Tarsem Singh wants.”
“Tarsem’s input was the basis for everything we did,” Stump says. “He asked us to give the characters a sense of volume and form. The key word was sculpture. We wanted the characters to look like they were really right there in front of you as opposed to on a screen.”
For Singh, the technology proved an organic extension of the unique visual style he has developed over an award-winning career as a commercial and feature film director. “The story could have been told in many different ways,” he says. “But my aesthetic really lends itself to 3-D. My shots tend toward tableaux and I normally shoot longer masters, both of which are very effective in 3-D. I don’t do a lot of fast cutting or extreme close ups, which don’t work well in this format. So in the end, I didn’t have to adapt my vision for 3-D; it was a perfect fit.”
The dimensionalization process can be slow and arduous, Stump acknowledges, but it brings big payoffs in the final product. “It took months and months of work. But creating stereoscopic 3D content in postproduction gave us more control. We could place anything anywhere we wanted. In fact, we not only could, we had to, because nothing lands in the right place accidentally.”
As Singh anticipated, 3-D ultimately suited his inspired visuals perfectly. “It was a quite a benchmark we had to reach,” says Merzin Tavaria, co-founder and chief creative director of Prime Focus. “The detailing of the sequences, particularly the Titan sequences, was an exciting challenge. In the end, we were very happy with the product and that we were able help Tarsem achieve his vision.
“At every interval we would send shots to him and confer on how he would like to shape it in 3-D,” Tavaria explains. “We worked with the depth of each image, foreground to background, and how it could be positioned in 3D. That enabled us to push quality to an extremely high level.”
The finished film has depth and volume never before seen on screen, according to Ken Halsband, executive in charge of production for Relativity Media. “What’s new and unique about this particular picture is that we succeeded in creating an artistic looking 3-D movie,” says Halsband. “Everything from sets to costumes was designed for the ultimate 3-D experience. We used the technology better this time, more painstakingly and artistically than it has been used before.”
Luminous and encompassing, Immortals raises the bar for stereoscopic effects in film. “Tarsem has created an entirely new world,” says Tooley. “With an environment that the audience hasn’t seen, the more you integrate them into the experience, the better it is. The 3-D technology gave us an amazing opportunity to do that.”
Related Link: Read the Full Production Notes for Immortals