Tag: production notes
“People Like Us” was filmed entirely in Los Angeles and the surrounding area. Instead of iconic landmarks and tourist attractions, the locations the filmmakers chose were more grassroots, hometown Los Angeles—the L.A. most tourists never see. As producer Bobby Cohen explains, “There is something special about shooting in real locations. There is a texture to them that you can’t rebuild. It makes a difference. That had been one of Alex’s [Kurtzman, director] main things from the get-go—he wanted to shoot the parts of L.A. that don’t normally get attention.”
Continues Cohen, “We’re not shooting the tourists’-eye view of L.A. As a born New Yorker, it’s been fun shooting in more offbeat neighborhoods. Alex intuitively understands the moods of these places and has done a very good job of capturing those moods on film.”
Director Alex Kurtzman comments, “I’m a native Los Angeleno and my city is not the glitzy, cliched Los Angeles that I feel like I see on screen in other films. I felt strongly about representing the L.A. that was the story of the movie and was one that others had never seen.”
One of the scenes in the film was shot at Rhino Records, one of the oldest record stores still in existence, and famed Hollywood High School became the setting for the Toluca Park Middle School. Old-time eateries Henry’s Tacos, Cole’s French Dip and Neptune’s Net were featured to lend authentic L.A. flavor—no pun intended.
Shooting in real locations, such as the houses, restaurants, schools and churches used in the film, presents challenges for lighting—walls cannot be moved and there are usually not high ceilings to accommodate the lights. But director of photography Sal Totino was a genius at coming up with simple, yet elegant ways to light the film that did not sacrifice the high quality of the filming.
Director Alex Kurtzman relates, “To Sal Totino, it isn’t about what’s the most beautiful lighting scheme. It’s about: how is this frame telling the emotional story of the characters? That’s the first question that he asks. He translates an emotion beautifully. I can’t imagine ever working with anyone else.”
Production designer Ida Random brought a very real look to the film, as if the audience were actually brought into the living room of a familiar house. Without overdoing the production design, Random was able to create an intimacy and comfort level that draws the viewers in, but never visually bores them.
Much of the music business memorabilia in the “Jerry’s Study” set belongs to Jody Lambert’s father Dennis Lambert, a Songwriters Hall of Fame nominee whose hits as writer and/or producer include “Ain’t No Woman (Like The One I Got) “, “Rhinestone Cowboy”, “Baby Come Back” and “Nightshift.” Lambert showed production designer Ida Random a storage unit full of his father’s memorabilia and she used it in the set, including photographs of Dennis Lambert himself and his actual Gold records.
Costume designer Mary Zophres continued the “real” look with her choice of clothing for the characters and the extras. Zophres says, “It’s not the kind of movie where you want the clothes to be front and center. They tell the story of who the characters are and then you move on. You shouldn’t be aware of the clothes. They should just sort of tell the story and go away.”
In dressing Chris Pine’s character Sam, Zophres had him in an expensive suit that is above his means at the start of the film, but when he goes to L.A. he only packs casual clothes for what he thinks is a 48-hour stay: two pairs of jeans, three T-shirts, a jacket and two button down plaid shirts.
For Elizabeth Banks’ character Frankie, Zophres chose a leather jacket that she wears a lot in the beginning of the movie. Then as the story progresses, she loses the jacket as her character evolves. The subtle shift in costuming was deliberate to parallel the storyline.
In dressing Michelle Pfeiffer’s character Lillian, Zophres took into account that the character had cared for her dying husband for some time and probably lost some weight without knowing it, thus she dressed her in slightly looser clothes.
Zophres was also very aware of the background costuming. “The background helps tell the story. We’ve had very specific scenes where there should be a look to where were, like we were at Cole’s downtown versus The Standard. Those are two hugely different looks. One is an old diner and the other is a trendy nightclub. You reveal those two places through how you dress the people in the background. It is a very important element to me.”
Related Link: View the Full Production Notes for People Like Us
A director known for his visual panache, Roman Polanski assembled a team of highly-creative behind the scenes collaborators including cinematographer Pawel Edelman, and Academy Award-winning production designer Dean Tavoularis and costume designer Milena Canonero.
The brief for his production and costume designers was straightforward. “I wanted realism for the set design and costumes and a contemporary look,” says Polanski. “Those were the two notes I gave Milena and Dean, they don’t need much advice!”
Almost as important as the four characters was the set. Constructed on the sound stages of Bry-sur-Marne on the outskirts of Paris, the set was created by production designer Dean Tavoularis, best known for his collaborations with Francis Ford Coppola on some of the most visually impressive films of the past 40 years including The Godfather trilogy, The Conversation and Apocalypse Now.
Tavoularis designed a floor plan for a set which would be as authentic as possible, where it was possible to walk from one room to another, or to look from one room down the corridor to another, just as one would do in a real apartment. He also designed the apartment so that it would bring an extra dimension to the narrative at key moments. So the bathroom is accessed only by the bedroom which brings a heightened frisson to the scene where Penelope is helping Alan change out of his wet trousers in the bathroom – they have to pass the bed on their way back to the living room.
Tavoularis, who worked with Polanski on The Ninth Gate, had never designed a film of this type, set in one room and with just four characters. “I tried to make it as real as possible. I’m always very concerned about the details of a set because you never know exactly how much the director is going to show, if you’re going to see inside the cupboard or inside the drawer. We had food and other items brought in from New York – and specifically Brooklyn – so that the apartment would be as authentic as possible. I was sure that some things wouldn’t be seen on camera, but I still dressed it properly for the actors. That’s especially important if you’re going to be on the one set for the whole film.”
His efforts certainly paid off. Says John C. Reilly: “When I saw the set, I thought that so much of my work had been done for me. Usually on films, the camera sees what the audience is meant to see so there’s only half a set or if you open a book there’s nothing inside the book…there’s a lot of artifice. But Dean’s set was filled with detail. It was completely realistic down to the strange little knickknacks on the shelves. The kitchen was almost functional. It definitely gave us a sense of place.”
One of the pleasures for the designer, who had almost retired from the film industry and was enjoying a life as a painter until he got the call from Polanski, was working in France. “I hadn’t done a film for a few years and I was astonished by how extraordinary the French craftsmen were. The carpenters, the painters, the prop makers were all of an exceptional caliber.”
Teaming up with Polanski again brought home to the designer just how broad the director‘s talents are. It was often Polanski who would see a way out of a problem, says Tavoularis. “His knowledge encompasses every aspect of filmmaking, from the design to the visual effects. He would know exactly how to explain how to put something right. He gets to the reality and to the core. He’s one of the greatest working directors in the world.”
Related Link: Read full production notes for Roman Polanski’s Carnage
The film opens with a sexually charged, flirtatious online chat between two people with the screen names Thonggrrrl14 and Lensman319. Lensman319 is a photographer who admits to “fantasizing” about Thonggrrrl14. Thonggrrrl14 entices Lensman319 to meet at a café to “hook up”. At the café, Thonggrrrl14 – Hayley Stark – meets Lensman319 – Jeff Kohlver. Hayley makes several references to her age (14 years old), yet succeeds in convincing Jeff to take her to his house. After showing her around, Hayley makes them both screwdrivers and asks him to take photographs. Before he can, Jeff gets dizzy, his vision blurs, and he falls to the floor unconscious.
When Jeff wakes, he is bound to a chair. Hayley explains she has been tracking him and drugged him because she knows he is a pedophile, child rapist, and murderer. Jeff denies these allegations, claiming he had innocent intentions. Hayley searches Jeff’s house for evidence of sexually deviant crimes. She finds Jeff’s gun and safe. In the safe, Hayley finds “sick” pictures and a photo of Donna Mauer, a local girl who had been kidnapped and remains missing. Jeff denies involvement in Mauer’s disappearance and succeeds in reaching his gun, but when he (still bound to the chair) attacks Hayley, she renders him unconscious by asphyxiating him with plastic wrap.
When Jeff wakes, he finds himself bound to a steel table with a plastic bag of ice on his genitals. Hayley explains she will castrate Jeff. To dissuade Hayley, Jeff uses threats, an attempt at a bribe, other negotiations, and in a final, desperate plea for sympathy, he tells her his own story of abuse.
Following the operation, Hayley leaves the kitchen, claiming to take a shower. Jeff struggles and frees himself. When he reluctantly checks the site of the operation, he realizes he is actually unharmed, and Hayley has elaborately faked his castration. He storms off in a rage to get Hayley in the bathroom, where the shower is running. Scalpel in hand, he attacks, only to find the shower empty. Hayley counterattacks him from behind, and as they struggle, Hayley incapacitates him with a stun gun.
Hayley poses as a police officer and asks Jeff’s ex-girlfriend, Janelle, to come immediately to Jeff’s house. Jeff regains consciousness to find that Hayley has bound his wrists and hoisted him to stand on a chair in his kitchen with a noose around his neck. Hayley makes Jeff an offer: if he commits suicide, she promises to erase the evidence of his crimes, but if he refuses, she promises to expose his secrets.
The conversation is interrupted when a neighbor knocks on the front door, selling Girl Scout cookies. Hayley tells the neighbor that she is Jeff’s niece; the neighbor leaves shortly afterwards. When Hayley returns, Jeff breaks free from his bindings and pursues her, eventually finding her on the roof of his house, where she has lured him. Hayley has brought her rope from the kitchen and fashioned it into a noose secured to the chimney. Hayley keeps Jeff at bay with his own gun.
Related Link: Read full production notes for Hard Candy
Craig Brewer is known for his distinct aesthetic and vision as seen in his critically-acclaimed films “Hustle & Flow” and “Black Snake Moan.” With a reputation of being a filmmaker who infuses his work with realism, grit and passion, Brewer isn’t afraid to shed light on cultural nuances that are deemed taboo by some. Though not a seemingly obvious choice for a mainstream ‘80s classic, Brewer loved the idea of revisiting a film that had a significant impact on his own life.
“When I was 13, “Footloose” had a profound effect on me and completely rocked my dome,” explains Brewer. “The film had teen rebellion couched in community and a religious storyline that didn’t hit you over the head. I felt that it was truly a story that could be told today and still be relevant, entertaining and essentially still “Footloose,” says Brewer.
Craig Zadan, who was also a producer of the original movie, recognized the significance of the film in current times and also believed that it was something that would still resonate with audiences. “There’s a generation now that would find a whole new meaning in this story,” says Zadan. “The film touches on so many issues that people are dealing with today and, in tandem with the musical elements and the classic nature of the story, it feels very contemporary.”
Brewer and Zadan’s shared sensibility about the film’s timelessness made for a perfect match. “There are many people who could have done a rehash of “Footloose,” but it wouldn’t have been unique, original or fresh. There are many directors out there, but very few filmmakers and Craig Brewer is a true filmmaker.”
Brewer’s vision included telling more of Bomont’s back story, which was a town shaken to the core after losing five of their brightest teens, including Reverend Shaw’s own son. “When Craig and I sat down and talked about the movie, we both knew we wanted to shed some light on the point of view of the parents, since we are both parents of young children,” recalls producer Brad Weston. “We didn’t want it to be just a teen rebellion movie because it’s dealing with loss and the lengths that these parents went to, to try and protect their children.”
To bring audiences inside the emotional state of mind of the community, Craig Brewer begins the film with the tragic car accident. “The decision to start with the car crash gives the audience a sense of the pain that led to the extreme restrictions,” states Zadan. “It’s easier to see, in a compassionate way, that this community was filled with grief-ridden parents trying to protect their children and not just a bunch of conservative religious fanatics.”
Related Link: Read the Full Production Notes for Footloose Movie
The task of dressing Stieg Larsson’s wide-ranging characters, who run the gamut of Swedish society, fell to costume designer Trish Summerville. Summerville joined with hair stylist Danilo and makeup artist Pat McGrath to forge the elements of Lisbeth Salander’s intentionally off-putting style, replete with chopped hair, dark makeup, studded eyebrows and cloaked outfits consisting of hoods, leather armoring and shredded denim.
The key to it all was allowing Lisbeth to be transgressive but also real – someone who might stand out in the corporate security world in which she works, but could also easily disappear at the margins of society. “We didn’t want to make her flashy and loud, but really, really authentic,” states Summerville. “We didn’t want her to look like she’s in a punk or Goth band, but to make her look really cool in a way that is kind of worn-in and used. We saw Lisbeth as someone who can just fade into the shadows if she chooses to do so.”
Her wardrobe of dark hues includes moto jackets, combat boots, high-tops, pronged belts, leather bracelets, thick “spacer” earrings, and t-shirts with provocative declarations (often in Swedish) – with every item washed, sanded, bleached and abraded to give them the essence of heavy use. “And then there are the hoodies,” notes Summerville of one of Lisbeth’s most metaphorically rich fashion choices. “She always has a hoodie and she also wears this over-sized snood – which David called the ‘Jedi Knight’ – when she’s hacking.”
For the initial design of Lisbeth’s hair, Summerville brought in her friend Danilo, who has worked with such artists as Lady Gaga and Gwen Stefani, because she thought he had the right aesthetic. “He’s an authentic punk from back in the day who has lived all over the world, so I was like, ‘If this guy can’t get it, no one’s gonna get it.’”
Fincher wanted Lisbeth’s hair not only to be expressive but fluid and changing. “David’s big thing was that this story takes place over a year, so it can’t be the same hair style the whole time,” Summerville explains. “Danilo gave Rooney, who then had hair to the middle of her back, an extreme cut. It has micro-bangs, the underneath is shaved, the back is chopped off and there are long pieces in the front – but there are so many ways to wear it. You can pin it up, let it down or Mohawk it out.”
It was also Danilo who bleached Mara’s eyebrows. Summerville recalls watching the metamorphosis. “It just made her face so amazing and changed her look completely,” she says. “Rooney was so affected that she asked if she could have a few minutes alone. Then we went over to a tattoo-and-piercing salon and she got her eyebrow pierced that same day. It was like this instant transformation, and in one day, she suddenly emerged into the character of Lisbeth.”
Summerville worked with Fincher on the design and specific bodily locations of each of Lisbeth’s tattoos, including the definitive image of the story’s title, which adorns Salander’s shoulder. “The dragon was definitely the hardest,” she comments.
On the set, the scene-to-scene shifts of Mara’s hair, makeup and tattoos were overseen by hair & makeup designer Torsten Witte, a long-time collaborator with Summerville, who had earlier worked with Fincher during the screen tests to find the film’s Salander. “Even then I knew that David had Rooney in mind,” he recalls. “For me, she was the perfect palette to paint on.”
She also endured a lot in Witte’s chair. “I would often feel so bad meeting Rooney at 4:30 in the morning to cut, shave, bleach and tattoo her,” he says. “There was a huge amount of maintenance involved for each of her looks. David and Trish were very specific about what they wanted to see in each scene. In general, David wanted there to be a back and forth between Lisbeth being attractive and pushing people away – so that you think, ‘Oh, she looks interesting’ but at the same time you wonder, ‘What is that?’ But the look was never static. If Lisbeth had been up for 36 hours on the computer, smoking cigarettes and not eating, she’d have bags under her eyes and her hair was a mess. Her look could change from very strong to more innocent and simple, depending on the situation.”
Her haircut helped create that flexibility. “The dark, chopped hair really made a great frame for this pale, fragile face that never sees sunlight,” Witte observes. “We could do a lot with it. I loved the braided look, a Mohawk looked really strong on Rooney and I also loved it just simply slicked back or in a beanie. The one bottom line was that David had to be able to see her face at all times.”
For Mara’s makeup design, producer Ceán Chaffin suggested bringing in British makeup artist Pat McGrath, named by Vogue magazine as the most influential makeup artist in fashion, to do a brainstorming session. “Ceán really admired her work and so she came out to Sweden and for two days tried out a great variety of looks,” recalls Summerville. “She did beautiful work. And then she conceptualized the makeup for the entire film, with more than 30 different character looks. She and Danilo and the rest of the crew were a dream team. David was able to throw us any idea – crazy, crazy stuff – and get so much creativity.”
Witte’s day-to-day makeup for Lisbeth was based on her likely disdain for a complicated beauty routine. “Trish and I talked about ways to make her very real, and one thing we talked about is that she probably would have only have a few makeup products she uses every day, like a black eye-liner and dark eye shadow and we stuck to about five products for each of her looks,” he explains.
Each day, Witte also applied seven fresh tattoos to Mara’s skin. “We used a real ink transfer and when I thought about them shooting with the RED camera and that the tattoos would be as big as a house on the screen, it was important that we do them every day,” he says.
In addition to the eyebrow piercing, Mara also went further. “It is difficult to fake a nipple piercing, so Rooney just decided one day that she needed to do this for her character and we all went together to get it done,” he recalls. “The other piercings of her nose and lips we were able to replicate. But it was all a lot of work for Rooney and she was amazing in her commitment. It was a great team effort with her, Trish and David all figuring out what was needed for the character in the moment.”
While Lisbeth’s internally-motivated style is a centerpiece, it was equally essential for Summerville to create a stark contrast with Daniel Craig’s Mikael Blomkvist. “I had such a great time with Daniel because he’s so much fun to dress,” the costume designer notes. “We worked in a lot of sweaters and layers to make him look a bit heavier and slouchier. Everything Lisbeth wears is very worn in, but his clothes are more fitted, more of a uniform. Yet, they are still quite relaxed. He doesn’t iron his shirts and he wears them open at the collar and kind of half tucked-in. He always has the same jeans – these Scotch & Soda jeans that we bought 30 pairs of for Daniel.”
Summerville especially enjoyed the broad scope of the movie, with its dozens of characters from disparate walks of life. One of her favorites is Erika Berger, Blomkvist’s lover and magazine partner, played by Robin Wright. “I saw Erika as a more mature, professional version of an older, gentler Lisbeth Salander,” she explains. “Like Lisbeth, she has a very strong female intention, and I think that’s also the reason that Blomkvist is so attracted to her. It was great fun to work with Robin.”
As for working with Fincher, Summerville calls it the best experience of her career so far. “You really have to bring your A game,” she notes, “but why would you want to bring anything else?”
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.”
The romantic travails of smart, funny, attractive young people are always fodder for light-hearted comedy-except when the light hearts are countered by heartache. CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER transforms the conventional romantic comedy with a bracingly honest real-life vibe, exploring both the comedy and complexity of love and friendship.
“Will and I grew up with romantic comedies, but the ones we love are all about heartbreak,” says the luminous Rashida Jones, who co-wrote the screenplay with actor Will McCormack and also stars as Celeste. “We wanted to invert what everybody expects from this kind of story. Of course we’re all completely familiar with the archetypes and structures and story points of romantic comedy-so we wanted to flip it. To keep the humor and the audience’s emotional connection to it but get something new.”
Rashida Jones and Will McCormack are laughingly frank about the real-life parallel between their own personal history and their collaborative screenplay. “As a couple we were short-lived and ancient history, but we knew we could be friends,” says Will, who nails the sidekick role of Skillz the pot dealer with comic skeeziness. “We wrote this whole movie side-by-side on one computer. We wrote every word together. Because we have been so close for so long, there was a real shorthand during the writing process. And as new writers, we were very encouraging of each other.” CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER is a first-time screenwriting effort for both actor-writers.
As Will elaborates, “Celeste and Jesse are definitely more amplified versions of us. Celeste’s journey is interesting because she is someone who thinks she can outsmart heartache. That’s something that happens to other people. She does everything she can to avoid it.”
Indeed, Celeste offers a twist on an archetype that movies love to scorn: the alpha woman. “Yup, Celeste is the high-powered career driver and Jesse is the passive guy who won’t grow up-all the makings of a clichÃ©,” says Rashida. “But the balance between them keeps shifting out of Celeste’s control, which kills her as a controller. When the reality of losing Jesse hits, she’s just blindsided.” Celeste’s ambitious striver is given more compassionate dimensionality than the alpha woman stereotype is usually afforded.
“Personally, I can relate to a line like ‘The father of my child will own a car'” says producer Jennifer Todd, herself a professional dynamo with both studio blockbusters and independent dramas to her name. “Celeste is a very, very recognizable present-day woman. But by the rules of studio comedy, she would have to lose her job, have a comeuppance. And she would also have to fall down in high heels a lot. Embarrassing things would happen to her. An ambitious woman has to become a loser to be likeable. Rashida didn’t write her or play her that way.”
Director Lee Toland Krieger remarks that “Even in 2012 you rarely see an ambitious Type A woman onscreen who’s more than a caricature. Rashida’s character can be tough and very serious about her career and also have a sweetness and sadness.” Krieger’s first feature, THE VICIOUS KIND, attracted Todd and the writers for its sinewy drama; “Just reading the script I understood that they didn’t want a fluff piece. They wanted a story about what heartbreak is really like. I was thinking HUSBANDS AND WIVES and I could see how a lot of other filmmakers might be thinking of something broader. It’s maybe harder to take at times and a bit more gut-wrenching, but I think people will respond to that honesty.”
“It was a really tricky tone to find,” Rashida points out. “There are so many turns in the movie that are so hard and so quick, and it goes from being funny and broad to really sad and hopefully truthful-it needed somebody who got that range to find what the thread is.”
But don’t worry, it’s still a comedy. Emotional truth notwithstanding, the goal is entertainment-hard to miss with the likes of SNL alum ANDY SAMBERG as Jesse, and an ensemble featuring Emma Roberts, Chris Messina, Elijah Wood and the rest of the supporting cast. As bad girl pop star Riley, Emma Roberts’s sulky stoner is the antithesis of Celeste’s uber-functional know-it-all. “Riley lives in a totally different world than Celeste,” says Emma, “So it’s hilarious to see when their worlds meet and they are forced to interact. Riley is oblivious but she isn’t stupid. I think she just doesn’t know how to behave appropriately in certain situations. I think they both are kind of fascinated by each other because they are such opposites. I love how their relationship goes from annoyance to a kind of love for each other. Or at least an understanding.”
Echoing the film’s themes of love and friendship, a network of longtime relationships enlivens the CELESTE AND JESSE cast and crew. Andy Samberg’s friendship with Rashida dates back to his stand-up comic days around LA, and they are old friends with instant chemistry onscreen. Producer Todd’s acquaintance with Rashida goes back to high school (where Rashida looked up admiringly to the slightly older and reportedly cooler Jennifer), and Jen gave Will McCormack one of his first film roles, in THE BOILER ROOM. Jen’s sister and Team Todd partner SUZANNE TODD shares producer credit (as well as with LEE NELSON). Chris Messina, who plays Celeste’s surprisingly astute suitor Paul, is Jennifer’s husband. On the tech side, director Lee Toland Krieger brought on a crack team of frequent collaborators, including Director of Photography DAVID LANZENBERG and his crew.
To pull it all together, producer Lee Nelson’s Envision Media Arts stepped up with the lifeblood of financing. “Jennifer and Rashida were trying to get CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER done on the financing side, and felt that they weren’t able to make the film they wanted to make when they reached out to us. We read the material, and loving it and loving the people involved, we felt like these are the kind of artists that we want to be aligned with-so we took a flier and financed 100% of the film.” By all reports, the all-union, modestly-budgeted production was remarkably fun for the cast and crew as they dashed around numerous LA locations and onward to San Francisco and Rhode Island (where the wedding scene was shot). “It was an absolute joy making this film,” says Nelson. “It was a very collaborative set with a very positive vibe.”
The joy must be especially rich for Rashida Jones, as the co-writer and title character, seeing her first screenwriting outing come to fruition. “Acting in a film that you wrote is a real privilege and a creative advantage,” she says. “As the writer, you know the genesis of the joke, the scene and the relationship. The process of making the film was extremely grass roots, which gave the movie an organic, lived-in feel.”
Related Link: Celeste and Jesse Forever Full Production Notes
Filmed entirely in the cities of Miami and Miami Beach, Step Up Revolution takes full advantage of South Florida’s unique and visually arresting locations, from the ultra-modern skyline and iconic palm trees to the gritty, colorful ethnic neighborhoods and serene beaches. “Setting the movie in Miami was one of the first choices we made,” says Smith. “It’s an American city, but a really sexy city with a long-established dance culture. It was the perfect locale.”
The area’s instantly recognizable backdrops telegraph glamour, youth and the contrasts at the heart of the film’s story. “Step Up Revolution is a love story set among the haves and have-nots of Miami,” Gibgot says. “Miami has an extremely wealthy population, as well as some of the most fabulous luxury hotels in the world. It’s an aspirational American city, a place where people experience wealth and glamour and excitement. In the movie, we see the contrast in the lives of the people who stay in those hotels and the people who actually live in Miami and serve them.”
Miami’s balmy climate and outdoor culture lend themselves to the wide-open vistas that the producers envisioned for their flash-mob settings. “We tried to incorporate as much of Miami as we could,” says Smith. “We built big, big sets and put lots of people on them. Whether it’s in the business plaza or on top of the containers or on Ocean Drive, we expanded the world of this movie in ways we never have before.”
Production Designer Carlos A. Menendez is a Miami native who knows and loves his hometown, and enjoyed showing it off in Step Up Revolution. “Miami is a magical city,” he says. “Geographically it’s stunning. It’s surrounded by water. There’s an interesting mass-transit system and bridges. The Port of Miami hosts containers from all over the world as well as the cruise liners that come and go. And you’ll never see skies like this anywhere else. The cloud formations are spectacular.”
It also has a uniquely Latin flavor, according to Menendez. “There’s a tremendous Cuban influence in Miami, obviously. But there is also influence from the rest of the Caribbean and South America. It’s a huge melting pot for all these cultures with a tremendous local music scene. There’s great music and great dancing on any given night.”
In no place is that more apparent than on the set for Ricky’s Club Habanero, the old school Miami club that Sean and Eddy have been going to since they were children. “This is not the kind of place you’d find out on Ocean Drive,” says Smith. “It has a sense of culture, and history. This is where these kids grew up and developed their eclectic musical taste. It’s the kind of place filled with families, old men playing dominos, guys playing various instruments there at night. It’s not South Beach, it’s Old Miami.”
Menendez infused the set with some of the city’s signature color and variety. “The walls are lined with photos and we’ve layered textures and color throughout. There is even a fivelayer diorama of Havana on the back bar.”
The fictional Miami Museum of International Art and Culture was created on a soundstage for the ambitious, multi-layered dance piece that first sparks Emily’s interest in The Mob. “The stage was pretty amazing,” says Smith. “We had a giant glowing jellyfish that descends into the middle of the museum. As it lifts its tail, you see the tutus of our electric ballerinas rising up. We have living sculptures, people who emerge from paintings, and all kinds of surprising artistic set pieces.”
And in anticipation of shooting the finale, Menendez fabricated a scale model of the shipping yard so that he, Speer, Sims and cinematographer Karsten “Crash” Gopinath could coordinate the scene before ever setting foot on set. “It was difficult pulling together all the different disciplines-choreography, cinematography, direction, stunts, parkour,” says Menendez. “I gave Jamal Sims tape dots so he could show us on the model where the dancers were going to be. He put them pretty much everyplace!”
Each container had a platform mounted and secured for the dances. “We even concealed a trampoline in a container,” Menendez explains. “In the end, what mattered most to me were safety and the dance. Those were the first two things on my checklist. The third was showcasing the most amazing views of Miami we could get. The arrangement of the containers was crucial. They were set to frame downtown Miami and Miami Beach in the background.”
The designer also had to keep in mind that the 3D cameras came with extra equipment that needed to be concealed. “Crash has a specific style of lighting, which is fantastic,” he says. “I have a specific design style. We worked it all out together. There were three 3D cameras with a tremendous amount of gear attached, which made it a whole different game than a regular movie. I was constantly trying to hide all of that.”
Speer had never shot in 3D before and credits Karsten and the film’s stereographer Nick Brown with guiding him though the process. “I had to learn to shoot in a different way than I would for conventional 2D,” he says. “But I was lucky enough to have an amazing crew.”
Dance lends itself naturally to 3D, says Brown, and the filmmakers were able to maximize that effect with innovative camera work. “Scott and Crash were very open-minded about trying new things and shooting in unconventional ways. We were able to create volume and depth that is totally comfortable to watch.
“We set shots up specifically to get the most out of the 3D medium,” he continues. “It’s not used for gag effect, like a hand sticking out in front of the screen. We’ve created moments that look really, really good. The choreographers had to be aware of creating layered dances, so we could get a lot of depth in the shot, but for the most part they choreographed the piece and then we figured out the best way to capture it in 3D using the camera positions and moves.”
Gibgot was amazed at how successfully the dances translated to the screen. “I didn’t anticipate the dance looking this good in 3D,” she says. “We were able to take specific moments in the choreography and utilize the 3D and the dancers to heighten the effect. It makes it a more exciting moviegoing experience, that’s for sure!”
With a fourth Step Up film now under her belt, Gibgot never ceases to marvel at the endurance and commitment of the performers who make them possible. “Dancers are the hardest-working people in the business,” says Gibgot. “They are one of the reasons I love making these movies. They don’t make a lot of money; they do it strictly for passion and nothing stops these kids. They love what they do so much that they show up every day excited to do it. It doesn’t matter what you throw at themÂ¡Âªand we’ve thrown a lot. In fact, even if the cameras aren’t rolling, they’re still dancing. They can’t stop themselves!”
Related Link: Step Up Revolution Movie Full Production Notes
Each time Jennifer Gibgot and Adam Shankman have launched a new Step Up film, they have made sure to match and then surpass the energy, diversity and complexity of the previous film’s dancing. But with Step Up Revolution, they have outdone all their previous efforts by scaling up the production values and bringing in more different styles of dance than ever before.
“From the very beginning, it was important to me to include the full spectrum of dance in this movie,” says director Scott Speer. “I believe everyone is naturally a dancer. And every style of dance is really about communicating. The Mob blends many different styles of movement into their flash mobs, including non-dance styles like parkour, which incorporates vaulting, rolling, running, climbing and jumping. I don’t think anyone has brought all of these different aesthetics together in a film.”
By juxtaposing the different styles, Speer believes that he not only shows how well they can work together, he also emphasizes the individual strength of each discipline. “They’re almost at their best when they’re all cut up against each other,” he says. “You really appreciate the hard-hitting hip-hop when you see it set up against the elegance of contemporary dance. That’s when you can best understand how universal dance is, which is one of the most powerful ideas in this movie.”
To pull together all the various elements, the producers brought back Jamal Sims, the prolific actor, dancer and choreographer who staged all three earlier films as well the recent remake of Footloose, the Madonna: Sticky & Sweet Tour and Hannah Montana: The Movie. “He has always done incredible work for us,” Gibgot. “We’ve been proud to watch him grow professionally.”
Sims was encouraged to take his creative spirit to the limitÂ¡Âªand beyond. “A big part of our evolution has been introducing new dance styles in each film,” Sims says. “Scott’s approach was that whatever I could dream up, he would try and make happen. He wanted to take as many different kinds of dance as possible and make them work together.”
Sims brought in a diverse team of choreographers to help realize Speer’s ambitious vision, including Chuck Maldonado, Chris Scott and Travis Wall. “Bringing other choreographers in ensured that the numbers all have a unique look and feel,” says Sims. “For example, Chuck is a stepper and he did Stomp The Yard 2. He helped us with the finale, which is an unbelievable blend of so many styles of dance. Chris has a strong tap background and worked with The LDX.
Travis has his finger on the pulse of the contemporary dance world. His pieces are very emotional and come from the heart of the movie.”
Wall was handpicked to choreograph Emily’s audition for a contemporary dance company. “We knew that we wanted someone different for that,” says Gibgot. “It’s a totally different style from the rest of the film and Travis could do that.”
“He has a different sensibility,” says Smith. “Kathryn McCormick trained as a contemporary dancer. She’s not schooled in hip-hop, which was heavily featured in the previous films. We still have lots of hip-hop dancing in the movie, but we made a choice when casting Kathryn to bring in something new. Travis was integral to realizing that.”
A duet between Sean and Emily, the dance plays into the film’s “Romeo and Juliet” romance. “Not only do they come from two different places and social strata, the way they dance is different,” says Smith. “Ryan brings a much more urban feel. Kathryn’s more lyrical.”
The choreographers worked hard to develop a unique look and feel for each of the large-scale production numbers. “The flash mob scenes are designed to be completely self-contained,” says Sims. “Each has a unique palette, location, theme and style of music. They are very different from each other.”
The pulsating Ocean Drive flash mob that opens the film is designed to grab the audience’s attention and not let it go until the film’s closing credits. “It is the very first time we see The Mob,” says Speer. “And it’s one of the biggest sequences in the film. It immediately establishes what is different about Step Up Revolution and captures the idea that these flash mobs are establishing a viral presence in the city. It is a great way to kick off the story.”
Sims says he always likes to hit hard as the film begins. “That sequence is in your face. It was probably the hottest day we had in Miami. The kids were dancing on top of cars and on the street. Every surface was scorching. We incorporated low riders, dancing with the cars bouncing to the rhythm of the track. There were so many different moving pieces that had to be coordinated and timed perfectly.”
Flash mobs usually use choreography that is simple enough for anyone to learn, but Sims took full advantage of the talent at his disposal. “The average person, or even the average dancer, would have a hard time pulling this off,” says Gibgot. “There were something like 60 people, including parkour artists, which added another exciting element to it.”
The settings provided as much inspiration as the music for the choreographers as they carefully crafted each of the unique set pieces. “Jamal, Travis and I all came together to choreograph the museum sequence,” says Chris Scott. “It was intense. We had people emerging from walls, a fiber optic ballet and several different styles that had to be integrated together. Sometimes the choreography drives the concept, but in this case the concept was driving us. We wanted to portray dance as fine art, just like you see in a museum. We made the dancers into living, breathing works of art. It’s magic!”
For the corporate-themed flash mob that marks The Mob’s first protest, Scott created a highly synchronized escalator ballet performed by identical drones in suits and ties. With dozens of dancers, it all had to be precisely coordinated to work. “They blend in with the business people,” says Smith. “They become part of the same faceless crowdÂ¡Âªuntil the performance begins. They all look the same and move simultaneously.”
Step Up Revolution ends with a breathtaking finale set in a shipping yard, a far larger space than Sims had ever worked in before. “This is a huge finale,” he says. “The space had so many possibilities and we wanted to take full advantage. We have the kids doing their rendition of The Warriors, really aggressive and dancing with props. We have a popping routine, then some of the top b-boys and trickers. Finally, we go into a lovely, sensual duet and all these different styles get mixed into one. In the end, it’s all connected and reflects the story of the two main characters.”
It was the most challenging number in the movie, according to the director. “We shot it over a period of five days,” Speer says. “It had multiple concepts that bled into each other and there was a lot going on visually with costumes, effects and all kinds of special elements. I couldn’t be happier with what we accomplished.”
Related Link: Step Up Revolution Movie Full Production Notes
The Raven is set entirely in Baltimore, Maryland, a city built around one of the earliest ports in what would become the United States. A prosperous place both before and after the American Civil War, the city was devastated in 1904 when the Great Baltimore fire burned 70 blocks of the downtown area to the ground. Although the city was rebuilt, it was impossible for the filmmakers to replicate mid-19th-century Baltimore there. Ironically, they would have to go to Eastern Europe for the backdrops they needed.
“When I think Baltimore 1849, I don’t automatically think, let’s go to Serbia and Hungary,” says Ryder. “My initial plan was to shoot the movie in a city in North America that had an old-town section we could take advantage of, like New Orleans or Montreal. We quickly learned it would be cost-prohibitive. In addition, those sections of towns are relatively small. American cities have been so gentrified that it would be a real challenge to be able to find all of the exteriors we needed.”
Budapest and Belgrade provided the filmmakers with plenty of vintage buildings, cobblestone streets and vistas free of cell-phone towers. “It’s a part of the world that has been preserved from gentrification to some degree,” says Ryder. “When James and I came to scout locations, we toured all over. It became clear pretty quickly what the plan would be.”
Production designer Roger Ford and cinematographer Danny Ruhlmann collaborated with McTeigue to create a visual style for the film that is both of the period and completely contemporary. “I was going for a very specific look and they got me exactly what I wanted on the screen,” says McTeigue. “We took a bit of artistic license, but it’s not meant to be a slavish period piece. We tried to stay authentic, without letting that override the narrative or the characterizations. I wanted it to be dark, but not oppressively dark. It’s more like a graphic novel, where there’s lots of negative space in the image. You can read detail in the blacks.”
Director McTeigue provided a specific reference point for his director of photography, Danny Ruhlmann. “The whole idea was to create a dark-looking film with a lot of soul,” says Ruhlmann. “James often referred to a Van Gogh painting called The Potato Eaters. It was these very old, craggy, poor people seen in soft, but cool and slightly depressing light. I stayed away from bright sunlight and tried to find cool shadowy light, keeping it soft and diffuse. It was important at the same time not to have the eyes lost in that darker light. The audience needs to be able to see the character’s eyes to learn where he’s coming from and where he’s going. I also wanted to keep the characters looking quite beautiful even though it was dark. That was another reason for focusing on the eyes.”
Ruhlmann and McTeigue agreed that they wanted to make an old-fashioned film in a contemporary way. “We moved the camera in a very sophisticated way to create contemporary images within a period story,” says Ruhlmann. “We liked the idea of mixing a period film with modern filmmaking techniques and modern lighting equipment. As the pressure on Poe grows throughout the film, the lighting and the camera style grow a bit as well. We created a bit more contrast by going a bit hotter with the light and adding more camera movement just to create a slight sense of chaos.”
For production designer Roger Ford, the jumping-off point was a book of images presented to him by McTeigue at their first meeting. “He had stills from other films, as well as illustrations from references on Baltimore and Poe, down to the kind of lighting and the frames and the composition. He went back to Nosferatu, the famous early vampire film made in 1922.”
With locations and sets in two countries, as well a complex script and only seven weeks in which to shoot, the designer had his work cut out for him. “There are between 40 and 50 locations in the movie,” he says. “We were never on any set or location for more than a day. We were very fortunate to have excellent crews in both Budapest and Serbia. To pull off a movie like this, there were plenty of challenges. Our greatest asset was the crew.”
Ford likes to say the only similarity between Baltimore, Belgrade and Budapest is that they all begin with a B. “Most of the architecture dates back to about 1880-1890, whereas our period is 1840-1850,” he adds. “But the look is very successful for the film. James wanted a stylized look that immediately took it a bit away from the period. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that telling the story is more important than slavishly following period detail, as long as the atmosphere is right. Architectural purists might pick up something here or there that’s not strictly period, but we never intended to make a full-on authentic period movie. We wanted to make a good thriller.”
Ford shaped a dark and mysterious environment out of the disparate elements available to him, says Evans. “Roger’s got a great track record of creating worlds of his own for movies. We couldn’t replicate the look of Baltimore in 1849 exactly, but we didn’t need to because we’re watching this story unfold through Poe’s eyes. That gave Roger a great deal of freedom to mix and match elements and create a palette of locations in Budapest and Serbia.”
The designer was able to build quite a few sets for the film’s more unusual scenes, including the site of a grisly murder inspired by “The Pit and the Pendulum.” “I really like the ‘Pit and the Pendulum’ set,” says McTeigue. “He found a huge attic space above a school in Belgrade, then retrofitted it and put the gigantic working pendulum in there.”
The pendulum setup was tricky, says Ford. “It’s massive with all these cogs and gears, and the thing drops a little lower every few seconds. We looked long and hard for a location. You can tell when a location’s going to work and when it’s not. Everybody walked into the space and said, ‘Wow, this is fantastic.’ The special effects department put together a big set of cogs and wheels and the thing went backwards and forwards. It’s very impressive.”
Other scenes were shot in a studio on sets constructed for the film. “We saw a lot of interiors along the way that we thought we might use as locations,” says Ford. “But for a variety of reasons, we decided to build a set. If you look really carefully, you might see similarities between the newspaper offices and the police precinct room. In fact, it is the same set basically, turned around, repainted and redressed so it looks different.”
Ford says he was relieved to move into the studio. “Everybody breathes a sigh of relief, because at last we’ve got control of the lighting and the sound and the space. I get a chance to truly influence the look, rather than trying to adapt a location that’s not quite right.”
He was also able use the studio to expand on practical locations to make them more versatile. “We filmed in some underground fortification tunnels in a castle in Novi Sad, two hours away from Belgrade,” says Ford. “They are defensive fortification tunnels made of brick tunnels that go for miles. We recreated them in the studio by taking molds of the brickwork in those tunnels, bringing those to the studio and reproducing them to perfectly match the real tunnels.”
In fact, Luke Evans was the only actor to shoot in the actual tunnels and he says it’s impossible to tell them apart onscreen. “They’re brilliant,” he says. “In Novi Sad, there were about 18 kilometers of tunnels around the fortress. The replicas set the mood perfectly. They’re quite eerie.”
Carlo Poggioli, whose spectacular costume designs have been seen in films that range from the Middle Ages and Renaissance (Season of the Witch, Dangerous Beauty) to post-Civil War America (Cold Mountain) and fantasy fairytale worlds (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Brothers Grimm), was brought in to create the hundreds of costumes fabricated for the film. “Carlo Poggioli is a superstar,” says Mark Evans. “We were very fortunate to get him. Carlo really understood the movie conceptually. That doesn’t always happen.”
The designer began his research for The Raven in New York City. “I went there because there are such wonderful book stores,” he says. “I found the perfect book with pictures of the accessories and everything I could want that dated back to 1840-1850. So I started from there.”
The costumes he created for Alice Eve’s character, Emily, started with real-life silhouettes, to which he added a touch of fantasy to set Emily apart. “Alice was a joy to work with because she was so enthusiastic about the clothes,” says the designer. “Emily is an educated girl, an independent girl and the daughter of an important person in Baltimore. We dressed her in wonderful colors, very strong colors for that time. We deliberately made her costumes a little different from the other women’s clothing in the film. I was thinking that her father owns a shipping company, so he’s bringing in fabrics that others don’t have access to.”
Eve had an additional challenge because of the period corset she had to wear. “I’m not sure she’d ever worked in one before,” says Poggioli. “They make sitting and standing very difficult if you are not used to them, but the corset also helped her move in a way that is not modern. In, the end she loved it.”
Poggioli also developed a signature look for Poe that combined period and contemporary. John Cusack took a strong hand in the process, insisting that Poe should be dressed in black. “James and I were initially thinking very dark greens and blues, but John’s vision was black and we accommodated him,” says the designer. “He’s a romantic poet and so everything that he’s wearing has softer shapes and fabrics, like light wool and cottons.”
Poggioli had a chance to truly shine, as well as a monumental task to fulfill, when designing the biggest scene in the film, the masked ball that Hamilton hosts to celebrate his daughter’s birthday. With more than 300 extras in lavish period costumes, vintage masks and elaborate head pieces, the scene is an extravagant, over-the-top spectacle that took seven teams of costumers to execute.
“We wanted it to be unique,” says Poggioli. “James and I decided to use the ocean as a theme to make it a really unusual world that borders on fantasy. We used a lot of blues and greens. When Poe arrives, we see the scene through his eyes and it’s a little surreal as he encounters a giant octopus, some mermaids and some really strange masks.”
Historically accurate or not, The Raven is a well-crafted story peppered with intrigue, suspense, history, spectacle and excitement, and the film’s imaginative version of Edgar Allan Poe’s last days shines a new light on the legendary American writer. “I want people to be super entertained,” says Shakespeare. “It’s really a psychological thriller and the audience is along for the ride. We show writing as an admirable profession that takes a lot of courage. Poe was not just a drunk who was hallucinating and wrote down some things about a bird. He was a man of passion and heart and empathy.”