The Credits http://www.thecredits.org Celebrating Film and Television's Creative Community Thu, 24 Jul 2014 18:38:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 Comic-Con 2014: A Snapshot of Films, Panels & Events http://www.thecredits.org/2014/07/comic-con-2014/ http://www.thecredits.org/2014/07/comic-con-2014/#comments Thu, 24 Jul 2014 14:30:57 +0000 http://www.thecredits.org/?p=11282 Comic-Con and its overflowing abundance is upon us once again. We’ll help guide you through the costumed chaos with a selection of offerings from top movie studios, the “only at Comic-Con” events, and our own wish list of events.

Major ... Read More

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Comic-Con and its overflowing abundance is upon us once again. We’ll help guide you through the costumed chaos with a selection of offerings from top movie studios, the “only at Comic-Con” events, and our own wish list of events.

Major Studio Showings:

Thursday, July 24

11:15am Toy Story That Time Forgot (Disney)

If the words “you’ve got a friend in me” set your heart aflutter, then be sure to attend ABC and Disney•Pixar’s first look at the upcoming holiday special, Toy Story That Time Forgot. Executive producer Galyn Susman (Toy Story OF TERROR!), director Steve Purcell (Brave), and head of story Derek Thompson (WALL•E) offer an peek into the sketches, storyboards, and concepts that contributed to the Disney•Pixar special! 

12:30pm Sony Pictures Entertainment

Jack Black stars in Columbia Pictures' "Goosebumps."

Jack Black stars in Columbia Pictures’ “Goosebumps.”

Boosting nightlight sales around the world, the book series Goosebumps by R. L. Stine is making the leap onto the silver screen. Jack Black stars as the author himself and Rob Letterman directs. Jack and Rob will discuss how the monsters are taking shape on screen. The film hits theaters August 7th, 2015.

Director Chris Columbus will also make a special video announcement about his upcoming film Pixels.

2:00pm The Art of Big Hero Six (Disney)

Could this be our next modern Disney hero? Inspired by the Marvel comics of the same name, Big Hero 6 is an action-packed comedy adventure about robotics prodigy Hiro Hamada, who learns to accept his talents and become a techie superhero. Director Don Hall, producer Roy Conli, production designer Paul Felix and character designer Shiyoon Kim discuss the visual development of the film.

3:00pm Paramount Pictures

Paramount will be offering the chance to view exclusive footage and previews for their upcoming films.

 

Friday, July 25

4:20pm 20th Century FOX Presentation

Over 2400 people have RSVP’d for this event, so get there early for seats and watch this mysterious presentation.

7-9pm World Premiere of Batman: Assault on Arkham (Warner Bros.)

Based on the bestselling Batman: Arkham video game series, the latest Batman animated film is the highly anticipated next entry in the ongoing series of DC Universe Original Movies. After the film, hear from a panel featuring fan-favorite Batman voice Kevin Conroy (Batman: The Animated Series), Matthew Gray Gubler (Criminal Minds), Troy Baker (The Last of Us) and John DiMaggio (Futurama), as well as producer James Tucker (Son of Batman), director Jay Oliva (Justice League: War), dialogue director Andrea Romano (Batman: The Dark Knight Returns), screenwriter Heath Corson (Justice League: War) and moderator Victor Lucas (Electric Playground).

 

Saturday, July 26

10am-12 Warner Bros. Pictures

Warner Bros. will return Hall H to present their three upcoming movies: Jupiter Ascending, Mad Max: Fury Road and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. We are especially excited about the second two films.

(L-r) Nicholas Hoult as Nux, Courtney Eaton as Fragile, RIley Keough as Capable & Charlize Theron as Furiosa in 'Mad Max: Fury Road.' Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures.

(L-r) Nicholas Hoult as Nux, Courtney Eaton as Fragile, RIley Keough as Capable & Charlize Theron as Furiosa in ‘Mad Max: Fury Road.’ Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures.

Mad Max: Fury Road, directed once again by George Miller, returns to the post-apocalyptic universe created three decades ago with Mad Max. Tom Hardy reinvents Max Rockatansky and offers a creative new take on the cult character. The film also stars Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Zoe Kravitz, Riley Keough, Hugh Keays-Byrne, and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.

 

(L-r) Ian McKellen as Gandalf and Luke Evans as Bard in 'The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.' Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures.

(L-r) Ian McKellen as Gandalf and Luke Evans as Bard in ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.’ Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures.

Award-winning producer/director Peter Jackson returns with The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies, the final film in The Hobbit Trilogy. Bilbo and the races of Dwarves, Elves, and Men are faced with difficult choices as they face destruction. The star-studded cast includes Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey, with Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins and Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield. The ensemble includes Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ken Stott, and James Nesbitt, with Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, and Orlando Bloom.

 

Sunday, July 27 

10-11:30am World Premiere of Scooby-Doo! Frankencreepy (Warner Bros)

Zoinks! Those meddling kids are back and this time Mystery Inc. is investigating a cursed castle haunted by a terrifying ghost. Attend the world premiere and hear from a panel including Mindy Cohn (Facts of Life), the voice of Velma, Grey Griffin (Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated), the voice of Daphne,and screenwriter Jim Krieg (Green Lantern: The Animated Series).

2:15-3:15pm World Premiere of Tom and Jerry: The Lost Dragon (Warner Bros.)

Beloved childhood figures Tom and Jerry return to their old, violent ways in the all-new original movie Tom and Jerry: The Lost Dragon. The cat and mouse tackle sorcery (and singing) to help return a baby dragon to its mother—all while comically beating each other up. Producers/directors Spike Brandt (Tom and Jerry’s Giant Adventure) and Tony Cervone (Tom and Jerry’s Giant Adventure) will be on hand to present the film.

 

The Most “Comic-Con” Events: 

Thursday, July 24

8:00pm – 9:00pm Tournament of Nerds

The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre answers the most pressing questions of Comic-Con: what superhero would win in a fight? Could Spiderman take out Dumbledore? Through rigorous academic debate…OK, through a comedian battle of nerd proportions, celebrity guests and famed comedians will tackle fantasy fights of epic proportions. Hosted by Justin Donaldson (Reno 911!) and Hal Rudnick (Screen Junkies), the panel features Marc Andreyko (Batwoman), Maddox (The Best Page in the Universe), Jesse Snider (Evil Ernie), Roger Barr (I-Mockery), Mike Carlson (Conan), Aaron Sparrow (Darkwing Duck), and celebrity guests!

 

Friday, July 25

10:00am – 11:00am Star Wars Origami

(Self-explanatory.)

1:00pm – 1:25pm There’s an Octopus in Your Head?

The Kickstarter-funded film by Ari Grabb (animator and director) is described as “an animated heavy metal rock opera about a self proclaimed pancake master who is trying to understand his troubled psyche by asking the devil what the root of his pancake obsession is. It will be a strange, beautiful, twisted, surreal, humorous outlook on artistic identity as the main character struggles between choosing happiness or culinary mastery.” Ari Grabb will be in attendance, as will Gabriel Acosta (sound mixer).

2:30pm – 3:15pm [adult swim]: Mike Tyson Mysteries

Mike Tyson is donning an animated trench coat to take on the role of detective in this new comedy series. His crime solving team includes the Ghost of the Marquess of Queensbury, Mike’s adopted Korean daughter and his sidekick: a pigeon. Attend for a first look at the new series and see the legend himself at a panel discussion featuring Mike Tyson, Rachel Ramras (MAD), Jim Rash (Community), and producer Hugh Davidson (The Looney Tunes Show).

8:30pm – 9:30pm Zombie Myths and Misconceptions

Zombie Research Society and experts Max Brooks (World War Z), Matt Mogk (AMC’s Talking Dead), Steven Schlozman (Harvard Medical School), Scott Kenemore (Zombie, Indiana), Brendan Riley (Columbia College, Chicago), Cameron Carlson (U.S. Navy), Brad Voytek (UCSD), and Craig Engler (Syfy’s Z Nation) discuss the evolution of the modern zombie with a special focus on little known facts and common misconceptions. After you attend, please let me know how anyone can debunk misconceptions about a make-believe creature they didn’t even create.

 

Saturday, July 26

4:30pm – 5:30pm E-Sports: How to Become a Pro Gamer

You may have noticed some new faces at the X-Games and in the world of professional sports. Those new glow-lit faces belong to professional gamers, now able to receive salaries and obtain visas based in their profession. E-Sport panelists include Genese Davis (The Holder’s Dominion, MMORPG.com, The Gamer in You), Ryan “Fwiz” Wyatt (VP of programming and eSports commentator, Major League Gaming), Sam “Samzorz” Hall (pro gamer, Mortality eSports, Twitch, founder of CODpedia), and John “ZeRo4″ Hill (pro gamer, world champion: Quake). The pro-gamers will discuss changes in the video game industry and the challenges of the sport itself.

 

Sunday, July 27

3:30pm – 5:00pm Buffy the Musical: Once More with Feeling

One of the final events of Comic-Con lives up to expectations. Part sing-along, part dance-along and part yell-at-the-screen-along, the interactive screening of Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical episode Once More with Feeling ends the weekend with a bang. Join members of the Buffyverse and get swept away by passionate fans. Word on the street is a special surprise guest will be joining the fun…let’s hope it’s someone low on this list.

 

Our Favorite Events: 

Thursday, July 24

1:30pm – 2:30pm The Giver

Famed book The Giver is ascending to the silver screen and Comic-Con attendees can watch exclusive footage with stars Jeff Bridges, Brenton Thwaites, Odeya Rush, director Phillip Noyce, and bestselling author Lois Lowry.

 

Friday, July 25 

1:30pm – 2:30pm The Chair: One Script, Two Visions, One Winner

A film nerd’s take on the reality TV competition craze, The Chair is a Starz documentary competition TV series created by Chris Moore that follows Shane Dawson (ShaneDawsonTV on YouTube) and Anna Martemucci (Break Up at a Wedding) as they use the same screenplay and budget to create their own films. Watch clips and attend a panel with both directors, screenwriter Dan Schoffer and producers Zachary Quinto (Star Trek, Heroes, Margin Call) and Josh Shader, moderated by Chris Moore.

3:30pm – 4:30pm Women Below the Line

Women in the comic and entertainment industry will explore gender roles in their fields and breaking gender norms within the creative world. Learn from Sheyne Fleischer (assistant editor, The Bachelor, Hells Kitchen), Tess Fowler (writer/illustrator Game of Thrones Exclusive Animation, The Rascals), Alicia Minette (prop fabrication: Sushi Girl, Man at Arms), and Aubriana Zurilgen (creature creation: Steve Wang’s Creature Workshop, MasterFX) how to successfully follow your dreams without being hindered by female stereotypes. Moderated by Glenn Freund (League of S.T.E.A.M.).

6:10pm – 7:40pm Stripped

Calvin & Hobbes? Say no more. This documentary features an interview with Bill Watterson, the cartoonist behind the lovable duo, as well as interviews with cartoonists behind Garfield, Cathy, Foxtrot, Mutts, Penny Arcade, The Oatmeal, Hark A Vagrant, and more. In the documentary, over sixty cartoonists reminisce and speculate about the future of cartoons and their mediums. Panelists at the screening include directors Dave Kellett (Sheldon) and Fred Schroeder (Four Sheet to the Wind).

 

Saturday, July 27 

12:00pm – 12:45pm TV Guide Magazine: Fan Favorites

Get the scoop on fan-favorite TV shows from a panel including Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones), Misha Collins (Supernatural), Jordan Gavaris (Orphan Black), Sam Heughan (Outlander), John Noble (Sleepy Hollow), Colin O’Donoghue (Once Upon a Time), Retta (Parks and Recreation) and Aisha Tyler (Archer)…need we say more?

Featured image: Mad Max: Fury Road, Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures.

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Master of Mayhem: Prosthetic Supervisor Conor O’Sullivan http://www.thecredits.org/2014/07/master-of-mayhem-prosthetic-supervisor-conor-osullivan/ http://www.thecredits.org/2014/07/master-of-mayhem-prosthetic-supervisor-conor-osullivan/#comments Wed, 23 Jul 2014 14:30:19 +0000 http://www.thecredits.org/?p=11251 There’s not a scratch, scrape, slash or bite mark he can’t create. Broken bones and severed heads aren’t a problem. Welts, warts, rashes and burns are perfectly doable. Whether you need prosthetics for a superhero, war hero, or son or ... Read More

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There’s not a scratch, scrape, slash or bite mark he can’t create. Broken bones and severed heads aren’t a problem. Welts, warts, rashes and burns are perfectly doable. Whether you need prosthetics for a superhero, war hero, or son or daughter of Westeros, Conor O’Sullivan is your man. O’Sullivan doesn’t only work in the realm of gore—he’s also created one of the most famous noses in film history, turning Nicole Kidman’s perfect sniffer into Virginia Woolf’s more pronounced proboscis for The Hours, and created the prosthetics that the late, great Heath Ledger used to help him embody The Joker. It was O’Sullivan who crafted The Joker’s identifying facial scars, the “smile” that he could never wipe off his face.

The Oscar nominated prosthetics supervisor (Saving Private Ryan, The Dark Knight) has applied his considerable gifts to films and television shows as wide ranging as the aforementioned movies, Game of Thrones (earning him two Primetime Emmy nominations), Charlie Wilson’s War, X-Men: First Class, The Dark Knight Rises, Prometheus and the upcoming Ridley Scott biblical epic Exodus: Gods and Kings. 

When O’Sullivan got the call to work on Hercules, which premieres Friday, July 25, one of his biggest challenges was designing the Bessi army, a tribe of brutal, green-skinned warriors who Hercules and his allies have to face. The Bessi battle was one of the biggest action set pieces in the film, requiring hundreds of extras, weeks of training, and 224 VFX shots from Prime Focus World. Yet before any of that could happen, O’Sullivan and his team had to create the army’s wild, nasty look.

“We went through the whole process with Brett [Ratner], quite a few tests, designs, drawings, all to get the characters absolutely right. He wanted their leader to be a giant, so I got in touch with Ian Whyte, and we went from there.” Ian Whyte is the 7’1” actor who has memorably played behemoth baddies before, from the blue-skinned Last Engineer in Prometheus to the Mountain, a.k.a Gregor Clegane, in Game of Thrones.

“Logistically it was a big deal, they’re all painted green and covered in tattoos, and there’s 150 of them,” O’Sullivan says. He knew that meant it would take several hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars to get them ready, so he had to find a way that would be logistically, financially and aesthetically practical.

The Design Process

The Bessi soldier began with a rough sketch from Weta Digital that, as far as O’Sullivan could work out, wasn’t based on any specific mythology. “There was one loose sketch that showed these blue-green guys covered in tattoos that almost looked like war paint, and that was something that Brett liked,” O’Sullivan says. “We were worried about the time to get the soldiers painted and tattooed. Like putting prosthetics on, it can be very time consuming. So initially, we were working from the design, trying various options to make it work, thinking of maybe using scars instead of tattoos, for example, because we hadn’t really worked out the manufacturing of the tattoo materials.” O’Sullivan studied primitive scarification, which he initially liked. After initial tests, however, Ratner preferred the tattoo look, so O’Sullivan began sketching designs.

 

The Tattoos

 

O’Sullivan began his tattoo research by looking at Greek painting and pottery. He wanted the design to mimic the way the Greeks themselves drew and painted. The Bessi are ruthless, animalistic killers, however, so their tattoos, it was decided, would combine the classical Greek illustrative method with a serpentine look. One version of the Bessi that O’Sullivan worked on actually had scales, but it didn’t look right, and, O’Sullivan said, it was out of keeping for period. “In the end we went to the viper family, and this particular snake, which we call Adders, but in America you call diamondbacks. So I used nature and Greek pottery to get the right look.”

An early design of the Bessi soldier with scales. Courtesy Conor O'Sullivan.

An early design of the Bessi soldier with scales. Courtesy Conor O’Sullivan.

“Drawing from the adder, or diamondbacks, they literally have triangles on their back, it looks like a bolt of lightning, they’ve got this very distinctly diamond shaped pattern in the color of the scales, if you look at the snake we designed, that’s exactly what we used. It took a lot of time to get it to look right, because it wrapped around their arms. It was a lot of work, I must say, a lot of weekends and evenings.”

Tattoo designs done by Conor O'Sullivan. Courtesy Conor O'Sullivan.

Tattoo designs done by Conor O’Sullivan. Courtesy Conor O’Sullivan.

A Bessi warrior. Courtesy Conor O'Sullivan

A Bessi warrior. Courtesy Conor O’Sullivan

Ian McShane is Amphiaraus, with a Bessi warrior, and his tell tale diamondback tattoo created by Conor O'Sullivan, behind him. Courtesy Paramount Pictures.

Ian McShane is Amphiaraus, with a Bessi warrior, and his tell tale diamondback tattoo created by Conor O’Sullivan, behind him. Courtesy Paramount Pictures.

The Sausage Factory

The actual logistics of getting the Bessi ready for action was a major hurdle. “Initially it was taking two hours to get one person ready, so if you work that out for the whole cast, it would have required a crew of one hundred people to get them all ready in the morning.” This, of course, wasn’t possible, so O’Sullivan and his team found an ingenious way of painting and tattooing more than a hundred soldiers quickly and with great detail—they broke down the army into three groups; heroes (who would be in the foreground), mid-ground, and background Bessi—and each group received a different level of attention and detail based upon how identifiable their group would be on screen.

For the background Bessi, they created what amounted to tattoo suits. “They wore a stocking material made of a fine spandex flesh covered in lyrca meshing. We found this company that does sublimation printing, which is basically a heat transfer, so you print a design onto paper and then transfer it, by heat, from the paper onto the material. In this case it transfers the actual dye rather than a plastic material. We printed 22,000 sheets of paper for tattoos for the film. So we had forty of the background actors dressed like that.” This allowed them to be prepared for battle without the same level of exacting detail that would be required for the mid-ground and heroes, the latter of whom, lead by Ian Whyte as the giant Bessi leader, would be up front and center. For the hero Bessi like Whyte, O’Sullivan had stents of the tattoo design created, which would then be transferred directly onto the 20 or so heroes that you see up close and personal in the film. By breaking down the process into groups, they were able to have the entire army painted, tattooed and ready for battle in a little under five hours, beginning at 5:30 am and finishing at around 9.

Every detail was thought of, including the components of the paint itself, which was infused with all day sunblock and insect repellent to keep the actors from being burned and bitten. The paint was also glue based, so that the tattoo transfers would stick to it and stay on.  “We sprayed them with the green paint, which was then textured with sponges, followed by transferring the tattoos onto them. It was quite a factory, we actually had to design the tent, which we called a sausage factory— they’d come in one end clean and come out the other end as fully formed Bessi warriors.”

Painted, tattooed and ready for battle. Courtesy Conor O'Sullivan.

Painted, tattooed and ready for battle. Courtesy Conor O’Sullivan.

 

Hercules Many Wounds

O’Sullivan and his team had a ton of work to do on the wound front, considering the film contains several massive battles. “There were lots of dummies, dead bodies, hydra heads, scars, wounds, bites, scratches, so there was a ton on design work for various characters, one of whom gets burned. So that meant we needed lots of prosthetics for makeup.”

As the star of the film, Dwayne Johnson’s Hercules is also a major glutton for punishment. This meant O’Sullivan and his crew had a lot of work to do to keep the hero in wounds and battle scars. “Very early on he gets a would to the shoulder that gets stitched up, so we made a special wound that ages from stitching to scabbing and into a scar.”

Hercules shoulder wound, before it's stitched. Courtesy Conor O'Sullivan.

Hercules shoulder wound, before it’s stitched. Courtesy Conor O’Sullivan.

The wounds O’Sullivan creates tend to be flat molds. “You put the wound on a flat surface, then you being the process of putting silicon into the mold, getting a flat edge, and curing and setting it. Then you transfer and glue the wound onto the actor, with the goal of making them impregnable to the day’s labors.” Sometimes those wounds are bite marks, or, in the case of Hercules run-in with the Nemean lion and the three-headed warg, they’re huge scratches.

All in a day's work for Hercules. Courtesy Conor O'Sullivan.

All in a day’s work for Hercules. Courtesy Conor O’Sullivan.

Askel Hennie’s character, Tydeus, one of Hercules most ferocious allies, suffers (among many wounds) a severely broken nose. “For Tydeu’s broken nose, we did a cast of the actor, sculpted the design, molded it, then that broken nose mold, which is an eighth of an inch think, and we apply it fresh every day.”

Tydeus's nose was a prosthetic applied by O'Sullivan. Paramount Pictures.

Tydeus’s nose was a prosthetic applied by O’Sullivan. Paramount Pictures.

For the three-headed serpent Hydra that Hercules battles, O’Sullivan and his team made what he called “good quality heads.”  “The heads are made of silicon, and we use a lot of silicon. Latex foam used to be the traditional material, but silicon’s quality is much better, it’s translucent, so the finished product looks and moves like skin. It’s actually almost indistinguishable from skin.”

O’Sullivan recalled how on the set of Ridley Scott’s Prometheus he had the luxury of taking several hours to lavish on The Last Engineer, the blue-hued giant alien so crucial to the plot of the film (and the entire Alien series). “You can make the most beautiful things with that kind of time…it took us hours to get The Last Engineer ready because he only appeared once. He had sixty pounds of silicon on him. If we took 3 hours for every member of the Bessi army, that’s 450 man hours to get them ready. We were two people to each warrior, so that’s a crew of 300 people—it becomes impossibly expensive. Part of the job is logisticvs, and Hercules was a game of logistics, as well as technical understanding. Eventually we got it all down.”

Featured image: Ingrid Bolsø Berdal is Atalanta in Hercules. Courtesy Paramount Pictures. 

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Hairstylist Aldo Signoretti Wigs Out on Set of Hercules http://www.thecredits.org/2014/07/oscar-nominated-hairstylist-aldo-signoretti-wigs-out-on-set-of-hercules/ http://www.thecredits.org/2014/07/oscar-nominated-hairstylist-aldo-signoretti-wigs-out-on-set-of-hercules/#comments Tue, 22 Jul 2014 14:30:58 +0000 http://www.thecredits.org/?p=11223 He’s done hair and makeup for the epic battles between ancient Greeks (Troy) and warring Mayans (Apocalypto). He’s created wigs for the sordid characters scheming and seducing their way through the 15th century Vatican (Borgias), 19th century gangsters vying for supremacy in the Five ... Read More

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He’s done hair and makeup for the epic battles between ancient Greeks (Troy) and warring Mayans (Apocalypto). He’s created wigs for the sordid characters scheming and seducing their way through the 15th century Vatican (Borgias), 19th century gangsters vying for supremacy in the Five Points (Gangs of New York), and 20th century bohemians reveling and raving in a Paris cabaret (Moulin Rogue!) Along the way he’s notched three Oscar nominations (Moulin Rogue!, Apocalypto and Il Divo), two BAFTA noms for Gangs of New York and Moulin Rogue! and won three Primetime Emmy’s, one for The Josephine Baker Story and two for Rome. There seems to be no era that hair designer Aldo Signoretti hasn’t made his own, and for his latest work in Hercules, the Italian master hairstylist put his forty-years of expertise into the legendary demigod of Greek myth.

Signoretti got the call from director Brett Ratner, who wanted the Italian expert on all things hair and makeup to turn the descriptions in Ryan Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos’s script, based on Steve Moore’s Radical Comic “Hercules,” into believable, beautiful wigs. “I did reference work for all the characters,” Signoretti says, “I designed the wigs for every character, save two— Rufus Sewell, who has his hair buzzed, and Hercules’ cousin. Almost a thousand wigs.”

Dwayne Johnson was given a long, flowing mane and grew a beard to play Hercules. Courtesy Paramount Pictures.

Dwayne Johnson was given a long, flowing mane and grew a beard to play Hercules. Courtesy Paramount Pictures.

For Hercules himself, Signoretti says that Ratner had a very clear idea what he wanted from the beginning. “He wanted Dwayne with long hair and a beard, so we got the look for him right away. The rest of the cast are based on the mythology, which is Greek mixed with Roman, so I stuck with that, but you play with your fantasy a bit, whatever the movie allowed you to do, especially with the women.”

From l to r: Askel Hennie is Tydeus, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal is Atalanta, and Rufus Sewell is Autolycus. Courtesy Paramount Pictures.

From l to r: Askel Hennie is Tydeus, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal is Atalanta, and Rufus Sewell is Autolycus. Courtesy Paramount Pictures.

 

Letting Character Design the Wig

As much as research into the hairstyles of Greek and Roman women of the era was crucial, Signoretti says that when he’s designing his wigs he needs to mold them according to the actors he’ll be working with, including the shape of their face and the personalities and backgrounds of their characters. “You have to cast to the face that you have, this is very important. Sometimes the correct period wig just won’t work for every character, so occasionally we went completely away from the mythology.” Signoretti mined the Greek look (braids, buns, chignons) but delved into a more fantastical feel for characters such as Atalanta, played by Norwegian actress Ingrid Bolsø Berdal. Atalanta is a formidable huntress from Greek mythology, now an ally of Hercules in the film.

Ingrid Berdal was fitted for a lush, swept back red wig as Atalanta

Ingrid Berdal was fitted for a lush, swept back red wig as Atalanta

“When I make a wig, it’s useless to do a beautiful period piece with a wig that doesn’t’ suit the actor. Because Hercules is based on mythology, you can cheat a little bit. You have to make it look real, but sometimes the reality is you have to make it look a bit of fantastical.” For Atalanta, Signoretti wanted the beautiful warrior’s mane to look both Grecian and wild, appropriate for a woman who spends a lot of time charging into battle. ““We tired a lot of different colors and looks for her wig, a lot of tests, until we came up with her look.” As a tough warrior whose hair needs to suit her need to be able to see, and fight, without impediment, the wig Signoretti and his team made for Atalanta is a mussily braided sweep of long red hair, tied back out of her eyes, that looks appropriately unwashed and wild. “Sometimes you have to make a mess of the hair to look a certain way,” he says. “And Atalanta was a challenge, but I love it—her hair really jumps out at you.”

Signoretti is helping tell the story of Hercules and the personalities of its characters with every wig he makes. For John Hurt’s character, the wise Lord Cotys, Signoretti gave him long hair and an estimable beard. For Joseph Fiennes, playing King Eurystheus, his hair is lighter, swept back off the scalp, with genteel curls at the bottom and a clean shaven face that speaks of his high born, sophisticated background.

“It’s not like working in a salon, that’s for sure,” Signoretti says. “You deal with the same material but it’s completely different because we’re creating characters with our wigs. That’s the most important part, the hair and makeup helps the actor fit into the character. My work, once it’s on the screen, it can be judged by every one, and some people can appreciate it and some people won’t. In a movie like Hercules, there’s so much work that was done, makeup, hair, I’m very proud.”

 

Featured image: (Front, left to right) Ingrid Berdal is Atalanta, Dwayne Johnson is Hercules, Reece Ritchie is Iolaus and Rufus Sewell is Autolycus in Hercules from Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures

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Garrett Brown: An Interview With a Visionary—Part I http://www.thecredits.org/2014/07/garrett-brown-an-interview-with-a-visionary-part-i/ http://www.thecredits.org/2014/07/garrett-brown-an-interview-with-a-visionary-part-i/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 14:30:26 +0000 http://www.thecredits.org/?p=11185 The major breakthrough moments in motion picture technology are fairly well known to the amateur film fan. There’s the advent of sound marked by the wondrous appearance of Al Jolson crooning “Mammy” in 1927’s The Jazz Singer. Technicolor, first developed ... Read More

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The major breakthrough moments in motion picture technology are fairly well known to the amateur film fan. There’s the advent of sound marked by the wondrous appearance of Al Jolson crooning “Mammy” in 1927’s The Jazz Singer. Technicolor, first developed around the same time, came into full bloom in the 1940s and 50s with the grand Hollywood Westerns and musicals. The first feature-length CGI movie was 1995’s Toy Story, which changed forever our expectations of animated storytelling.

The invention of the Steadicam® is not nearly so familiar to the movie-going public—if at all. Yet within the film industry, it is momentous. Revolutionary.

Introduced in the early 1970s by Garrett Brown, a Philadelphia-based cinematographer, the Steadicam is essentially a device that supports a handheld camera that allows the operator to film a subject in motion without the shaking that typically comes with handheld shots. Its adoption by the industry gave directors a new artistic freedom. No longer would they be restricted to track-mounted dolly shots or cranes to follow movement—nor burdened by the labor-intensive setups those required. Instead, the Steadicam operator could walk alongside, behind, or in front of the moving subject at will and capture stabilized imagery.

Brown’s invention made its feature film debut in 1975 in director Hal Ashby’s Bound for Glory starring Keith Carradine. Beginning from a position on a jib crane 30 feet in the air, Brown was lowered to the ground and then followed Carradine’s Woody Guthrie character as he weaved through a migrant camp scene with more than 900 extras for more than two minutes. Though Brown was unsure of the results until he saw the footage, the scene broke new ground. So much so, that when the film’s director of photography, Haskell Wexler, took home the Academy Award for best cinematography, Brown found both his invention—and his services—in great demand in Hollywood.

Brown himself was awarded an Oscar for Technical Achievement in 1978 for his invention.

The story of how Brown, now 72, developed such a breakthrough piece of technology is as remarkable as the tales he tells of employing it on movies like Rocky, The Shining, and Reds, to name just a few of the 70 plus features he has shot. (A resume sampler: Return of the Jedi, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Casino, Philadelphia, Marathon Man….) In part one of a two-part series, Brown talks to The Credits about the early days of the Steadicam, about calming his nerves high above the Bound For Glory set, and how a chance moment in Hollywood led to shooting one of the most iconic scenes in cinema history.

Let’s start in the late 1960s, when your company, The Moving & Talking Picture Company, was making commercials and short films for Sesame Street. What inspired you to begin working on a Steadicam?

I taught myself to be a filmmaker by reading film books from the Philadelphia library. And of course that made for some strange anachronisms, because all the books were absurdly out of date. So I taught myself, in effect, to be a 1940s filmmaker. And the equipment used in filmmaking in the 1940s were dollies and three-wheeled giant mic booms—this heavy, bulky equipment that I ended up buying. I had a little Bolex camera, and to move it smoothly, I had to use a dolly and a camera car. The dolly was about 800 pounds, and I had five pieces of rail (for tracking outdoors)—four straight and one curved—so you can imagine the absurdity of my dolly shots. They all went straight for a while and then curved, then went straight again; and they all lasted 24 seconds.

So you wanted to get rid of the dolly and use handheld?

Right. But I didn’t like the look of handheld because it’s shaky. The footage looks like a creature is holding the camera. I was conditioned to want my moves to be cinematically smooth.

An early version of the Steadicam featured a horizontal pole with a 16mm camera at one end, a counter-weight at the other, and a hand-cranked crane contraption. Tell us about that.

It was heavy and long; picture yourself carrying a ladder—if you hold a ladder at its center of balance it takes a lot of force to turn it—to pan it, or tilt it. I made a series of impossible shots with the crane and pole and showed the footage to Panavision and Cinema Products and both said, “this is amazing, the footage is terribly impressive, but you have to deliver in 35mm to be a success.” That’s what brought me flat up against the realization that this thing was a turkey—that it would never, ever work with a heavy camera. It was already enormous and the counterweight would have to be the same weight as the camera.

Brown with the earliest version of his steadicam. Courtesy Garrett Brown.

Brown with the earliest version of his steadicam. Courtesy Garrett Brown.

And that’s when you famously holed up in a hotel for a week to try to find a more workable version?

Right. I started over again out of desperation. We had a lot of money invested in getting it right and I needed to work my way through all the old ideas and drawings to create a more commercial version—to create a smaller and lighter version. I experimented with different kinds of rigging, balancing borrowed brooms and vacuum cleaners from the cleaning staff, running with my eyes closed down the corridors. I was just trying to get a feel for how it might work.

And what you emerged with is essentially the Steadicam we know today?

Yes. In fact, the original patent shows it is a combination of four things: One is to spread out the weight of each item that you’re dealing with—the camera, auxiliary, battery, and monitor—so that the center of the mass is pulled outside the camera and is accessible to you. Number two is to put a gimbal at the accessible spot so that you can hold the object at its center of balance but without any angular influence on it. The third item is to provide some sort of assistance for supporting on the body because it’s potentially so bloody heavy—you needed something to hold it like it’s in zero gravity that would allow you to move your arms freely.

And the fourth item in the patent?

The fourth item had to do with how the hell you would see through the lens! Originally it was a fiber optic cable [running from camera to the eye]. But that was dreadfully expensive. And, although it provided a brilliant image, it was stuck in front of one eye, meaning you had monocular vision while trying to move with it. 

Stanley Kubrick saw some of the first 35mm demo shots you did. What was his response?

Well, first you should know that one of the great things about this particular invention is that you can see the results without giving away how it works. And we figured we would just blow away anyone in Hollywood with these impossible shots and they would have no clue how we did them. Kubrick saw the demo and sent a Telex saying marvelous things, including, “you can count on me as a customer.. .this should revolutionize the way films are shot. Oh, by the way, are you aware that a skilled counterintelligence photo interpreter can detect from the shadow on the ground some of the characteristics of how it might work?” We were horrified and ran into the screening room and sure enough, there were 14 frames with those shadows that none of us had noticed. So we cut them out.

Director Stanely Kubrick (L) walks with Garrett Brown through the infamous labyrinth on the set of the 'The Shining.' Courtesy Garrett Brown

Director Stanely Kubrick (L) walks with Garrett Brown through the infamous labyrinth on the set of the ‘The Shining.’ Courtesy Garrett Brown

Tell us how you connected with Hal Ashby for Bound for Glory?

That was due to Haskell Wexler, the great cinematographer. He contacted me in 1974 to shoot a Keds commercial using what we then called the “Brown Stabilizer.” So Haskell became our first customer. He had me chase after teenaged girls wearing Keds and the results were spectacular. Then Haskell was engaged to shoot Bound for Glory for his friend Hal Ashby, and he devised that insanely bold shot for me starting on the crane. It was my first-ever feature film.

What kind of prep did you do for that scene? Did you have a run-through or rehearsal?

No. I had a description from Haskell of what would happen in the shot: Carradine would get off of the truck bed and walk through the camp. I was to follow him all the way through and then precede him all the way back so that Haskell could preserve the angle of the backlight. The actual path was completely unknown to me in advance. The extras were instructed by loudspeaker not to look at me. They all obeyed except for one poor fellow in take two who didn’t recognize that I was a cameraman. I must have looked like some odd person carrying a sewing machine or something like that. The guy went right up to talk to Carradine in the middle of the take.

Did you know what you had by the time the shooting day was over?

No. There were two takes before lunch and the second had the guy who had interrupted. The first was not very good. I was a bit scared standing 30 feet up in the air and Nick McLean, the regular camera operator, was with me to steady my nerves. He looked at my tiny little video monitor and said, “that’s funny, you’re shaking but the shot is still.” At lunchtime, he got me a beer and I was much settled down and we had one more take in the afternoon. And then they moved on. We figured we either had it or we didn’t.

You shot the now-legendary scene of Sylvester Stallone as Rocky running triumphantly up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum for director John Avildsen. And it was based on the very last shot on your famous 35mm demo reel?

Yes. I had shot my [then] girlfriend, Ellen, running up and down the steps for the demo. Avildsen saw it and recognized his assistant, Ralph Hotchkiss—who I had hired for a shoot in Philadelphia—in the background. Avildsen contacted Ralph to ask, “where were those steps and how was that shot done?” I happened to be in Hollywood in Studio 15 at the time demo-ing the Steadicam for producer John Boorman. By coincidence, Avildsen, who was prepping to shoot Rocky, was in Studio 16. When I heard that, I arranged to come out from my studio come up behind Avildsen with my rig. I surprised him to say the least! And that’s how I ended up on that picture, doing the same shot over again with Stallone a few months later.

Garrett Brown and Sly Stallone on the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum on the set of 'Rocky.' Courtesy Garrett Brown.

Garrett Brown and Sly Stallone on the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum on the set of ‘Rocky.’ Courtesy Garrett Brown.

How many takes did you have for the scene?

Well, unfortunately it was cold that day, and my rig wasn’t running very well because it had been dropped, and a bent motor shaft inside the tube was rubbing. And that little motor just wasn’t adequate. So I had our director of photography, Ralf Bode, run behind me holding two car batteries with cables attached to the camera to try to keep it running. But Ralf’s legs were short, and he was heavily burdened, to say the least, and so he began to fall behind. One of the cables suddenly became taut and it put a serious jerk in the camera just at the triumphant moment at the top of the stairs. But we only had time for that one shot, that one take, and that was it. I’ve been slightly tormented by that imperfection of that shot all these years, but lately I’ve realized it doesn’t matter. It’s a great shot!

In part 2 of our interview, Brown describes working with Stanley Kubrick on The Shining, disappointing Warren Beatty, and the highlight of his career shooting with the Steadicam.

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Richard Linklater on his Masterful, Moving Family Epic Boyhood http://www.thecredits.org/2014/07/richard-linklater-on-his-masterful-improbable-family-epic-boyhood/ http://www.thecredits.org/2014/07/richard-linklater-on-his-masterful-improbable-family-epic-boyhood/#comments Fri, 18 Jul 2014 14:30:54 +0000 http://www.thecredits.org/?p=11177 It’s hard not to be a Richard Linklater fan. Before Boyhood came out, we got the chance to sit down with him, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy to discuss their incredible 18-year odyssey making the Before trilogy.  They were, unsurprisingly, passionate about what it was ... Read More

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It’s hard not to be a Richard Linklater fan. Before Boyhood came out, we got the chance to sit down with him, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy to discuss their incredible 18-year odyssey making the Before trilogy.  They were, unsurprisingly, passionate about what it was they’d accomplished—they captured a single relationship and covered it, in nine year increments,  over 18-years. In Before Sunset, Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Delpy) are young, bright, voluble strangers who meet on a train and impulsively spend 24-hours together in Paris. Nine years later in Before Sunset, they meet again, now in their 30s and, while still energetic conversationalists, life’s inevitable disappointments have tempered the fever pitch of their conversations some. Only now they’re old enough to know they can’t go another nine years without each other. Another nine years pass until we meet them again in Before Midnight, now married with two kids, and the relationship we witness over this single day and night looks a lot more like a conventional marriage than either Jesse or Celine would probably have imagined—compromise, frustration, and ultimately, verbal combat. The last scene is explosive, all the more so because over the course of three films we’ve gotten to know them so well. 

The Before trilogy would mark a watershed moment in most filmmakers careers, yet Linklater is perhaps one of the most daring American directors working today, and Boyhood might just be his masterpiece, a viewing experience unlike any other in the history of cinema. The film spans 12-years in the life of a single Texas family, with singular focus on Mason Jr., the boy of the title who becomes a young man right before your eyes. Slate film critic Dana Stevens had it exactly right when she wrote that it’s a “gradually unfolding miracle.” Part of that miracle is how the film was made, and the bold collection of collaborators who signed on to Linklater’s passion project and stayed with him, for a week or so a year, for twelve straight years from 2001 until 2013. His collaborators include his primary cast—Ellar Coltrane as Mason Jr., who he met when he was just six years old, his cinematic soul mate, Ethan Hawke, as his father Mason Sr, an incredible Patricia Arquette as his mother Olivia, and his own daughter, Lorelei, who “cast herself,” as Linklater says, as Mason’s older sister Samantha. Then there’s his incredible crew members (more than 450 worked on the film at one point or another), who helped Linklater figure out, year by year, how to make a film shot in bursts look like a single, cohesive story. These include his co-producer and longtime editor Sandra Adair, production designers Rodney Becker and Gay Studebaker, and costume designer Kari Perkins. And the list of people who believed in this project and helped make it a reality also includes executives, specifically IFC Films president Jonathan Sehring, who had to justify, year after year, why the company was spending money on such a wild, improbable idea.

Richard Linklater and moderator Alyssa Rosenberg, cultural and political columnist for the Washington Post.

Richard Linklater and moderator Alyssa Rosenberg, cultural and political columnist for the Washington Post.

The Motion Picture Association of America hosted a screening of Boyhood where Linklater sat down afterwards with Alyssa Rosenberg, cultural and political columnist for the Washington Post, to discuss how his film came to be, what it means to him, and how he made a collaborator of time.

Boyhood_edit2 from The Credits on Vimeo.

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Welcome to the new Credits http://www.thecredits.org/2014/07/welcome-to-the-new-credits/ http://www.thecredits.org/2014/07/welcome-to-the-new-credits/#comments Thu, 17 Jul 2014 14:30:18 +0000 http://test.thecredits.org/?p=11133 After a lot of thinking, tinkering and testing, we’re very excited to unveil our new website. Like an improved Iron Man suit, The Credits has upgraded its software, streamlined its design and increased its adaptability. We’ve now got a fully ... Read More

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After a lot of thinking, tinkering and testing, we’re very excited to unveil our new website. Like an improved Iron Man suit, The Credits has upgraded its software, streamlined its design and increased its adaptability. We’ve now got a fully responsive design and layout. This means that whether you’re loading up the site on your smartphone, tablet or desktop, you’ll get the full expression of The Credits at your fingertips.

Under the hood, we’re now using the latest techniques in CSS3 and jQuery for quick load times. To speed things up even more, we’re using Ajax to load in content, which means content is refreshed on the fly without reloading the page. We’ve also implemented custom Google Search to better help you find content. On our full story pages, commenting is now available to post your thoughts.

As for the look, we wanted to bring some aesthetic excitement to the redesign via vibrant, energetic colors and bold type. While the original design featured muted grays and blues, we now have bright pops of chartreuse, salmon red, and teal grounded by a darker navy blue and black. The photos and videos are larger, too, allowing us to better show off the work of filmmakers and artists we routinely feature.

Out with the old (L) and in with the new.

Out with the old (L) and in with the new.

We have broken down our articles and videos into five categories: Multimedia (including videos and interviews), Creators & Makers (our interviewers with the people who make the films and television shows we love), Innovation (focusing on the always evolving technology behind film and TV), On Location (whether it’s Pittsburgh, Cleveland or Albuquerque, these are the stories about what film and TV production means for local communities) and Script to Screen (articles about how films and shows are made, from that first idea to the premiere).

In short, the site is simply faster, smarter and more visually appealing. It was time to move on. While we’ll always be fond of our original site, launched back in September of 2012, we’re really excited to have a more appropriate platform to share our love of film and television, and the thousands of people who make it happen.

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Hercules Stunt Coordinator Greg Powell Talks Epic Battles http://www.thecredits.org/2014/07/hercules-stunt-coordinator-greg-powell-talks-epic-battles/ http://www.thecredits.org/2014/07/hercules-stunt-coordinator-greg-powell-talks-epic-battles/#comments Wed, 16 Jul 2014 14:30:59 +0000 http://test.thecredits.org/?p=11128 Greg Powell was born to do stunts. “I’ve been doing stunts since I was fourteen, so that’s forty-five years now,” he says. “I wake up a little bit stiff in the morning, but that’s the name of the game, and ... Read More

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Greg Powell was born to do stunts. “I’ve been doing stunts since I was fourteen, so that’s forty-five years now,” he says. “I wake up a little bit stiff in the morning, but that’s the name of the game, and I still enjoy it.” His father, Frederick “Nosher” Powell, was a stuntman, actor and boxer—he was once was a sparring partner for Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson and Muhammad Ali. Greg’s uncle Dennis, Nosher’s younger brother, was also a stuntman, stunt coordinator and actor. Greg’s younger brother, Gary, is a stuntman and stunt coordinator. And Greg himself is one of the most respected stuntmen, horse masters and stunt coordinators in the business, working on some of the biggest films of this century, including all seven of the Harry Potter films, Skyfall, Fast & Furious 6 and the upcoming Hercules and Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Powell is a large man, standing at 6’4”, and has made his presence felt in a long, distinguished career. Some of his early credits include stunt work on the Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me, Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman, and Pink Floyd’s The Wall. He kept being asked back to the Bond franchise, again as a stuntman for 1983’s Never Say Never Again, as horse master for 1985’s A View To Kill and horse master on 1987’s The Living Daylights. In fact, his run in the 1980s would make a full career for most stunt performers and horse masters—he was horse master and wrangler on John Landis’s Spies Like Us (1985), a movie that typifies the decade at its most enjoyably silly, a stuntman on Terry Gilliam’s sci-fi epic Brazil (1985), embodying the decade at its most daring, and finally a horse master and stuntman on Ron Howard’s fantasy film Willow (1988), the 80s at its most Val Kilmer-y (with the obvious exception of Top Gun).

Director David Yates, who helmed four of the Harry Potter films, including the last two in the franchise, marveled at Powell and his roving band of stunt professionals, who he likened to a traveling football team. Powell, a little too old now to be doing stunts himself, told us that his main job, aside from keeping everyone safe, is bringing the best possible people with him to every project he joins. For the Potter series, outside of the principal cast and some crew, Powell was one of the few people who was a part of every single film, and he brought back the stunt doubles throughout the series, as they aged right alongside the young leads.

For Brett Ratner’s Hercules, based off the graphic novel “Hercules: The Thracian Wars,” Powell had his work cut out for him. The swords-and-sandals epic starring Dwayne Johnson as the massively muscled Greek demigod required Powell to come in with only about two weeks before shooting, an atypically short amount of time for such a huge job. One of the things Ratner wanted to improve from the original film’s plan, and one of the reasons Powell and his team were called in, was the major battle with Rhesus, Hercules most formidable foe in the film, that would involve horse-drawn chariots, warriors on horseback and bodies clashing and flying in every inch of the frame. Powell had just returned to England from India, where he was working on the Bollywood film Holiday, when he got the call that Brett Ratner wanted to meet him, in Budapest.

“We trained a whole team in that time,” Powell said. “Ratner told us what he wanted, and then we went on from there.” Powell headed a department that had close to 140 stunt professionals, which included horse masters, trainers, riggers, fight coordinators, and motion capture performers. The stunt coordinator has to talk to almost every department, from art to props to camera and electrical, to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Despite Dwayne Johsnon’s pre-film career as the Rock, launching himself into other colossally huge men in the wrestling ring, his cousin, Tanoai Reed, has long been his stunt double. “Hercules is running around, smashing chariots out of the way,” Powell says, and for much of that, Reed was throwing himself into his role with precise, athletic control, all under the watchful eye of his coordinator. Every stunt performer is Powell’s responsibility, and their safety is paramount.

The Rhesus Battle, as Powell called the epic showdown between Hercules and the ferocious warlord he must face, involved horse drawn chariots, horses falling, chariots toppling, and a scale of mayhem familiar to fans of 300.

Everyone flinging their bodies into battle is the responsibility of stunt coordinator Greg Powell. Courtesy Paramount Pictures.

Everyone flinging their bodies into battle is the responsibility of stunt coordinator Greg Powell. Courtesy Paramount Pictures.

“They had started off with just two men on the chariot, but we put four in them,” Powell says. “For that Rhesus battle, there were lots of falling horses, men charging around, chariots charging around, and a lot of that was done for real, at speed,” he says. “You had people falling off horses, off chariots, and lots of stunt guys and extras in the scene.”

Powell’s days of falling off of horses are mostly over, but he’s got a team of experts he brings in from all over the world. “I bring in my guys from Spain who work with the falling horses, I have charioteers from Hungary, I bring in people to do the various martial arts, weapons—it’s something different for every film.” Powell’s Spanish connection is crucial for a film like Hercules, which wants as many practical stunts as possible rather than relying too much on CGI. “These are horses that have been trained to fall over without injuring themselves,” Powell says. “One day we did fifty horse falls, and I’ve never had an injury with horses doing that.” Powell and his team prepare beds typically made of woodchips, “nice and soft,” for the horses to land on. These beds are covered with a soft replica of whatever the terrain in the scene is, be it sand or grass or rock. As a longtime horse master himself, Powell still trains horses to fall, but says his Spanish guys are the best, and they fall off their horses beautifully.

When asked about what films in his long career have been most difficult, Powell says each presented unique challenges, but the Harry Potter films come to mind because they started off with these little kids performing as stunt doubles who had to be looked after closely. Powell himself doubled for the beloved half-giant Hagrid, when he rides a motorbike, as well as the loathed Uncle Vernon, Harry’s muggle caretaker.

When we spoke to Powell, he was on the set of the next Avengers. Helicopters could be heard in the background, the set was loud and lively as you’d expect. Yet Powell wasn’t phased, and spoke cheerfully about his experience on Hercules before plunging back into the action on Joss Whedon’s blockbuster, a born stuntman carrying on his family’s tradition.

Featured image: Dwayne Johnson is Hercules. Courtesy Paramount Pictures.

 

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Exec Producer & Writer on FX’s Tyrant Talks About Groundbreaking Show http://www.thecredits.org/2014/07/exec-producer-writer-on-fxs-tyrant-talks-about-groundbreaking-show/ http://www.thecredits.org/2014/07/exec-producer-writer-on-fxs-tyrant-talks-about-groundbreaking-show/#comments Tue, 15 Jul 2014 14:30:55 +0000 http://test.thecredits.org/?p=11130 FX’s new show Tyrant is unlike anything currently on television. Showcasing Arab characters and cultures, set in the Middle East, the 10-episode first season is a bold step towards showing American audiences people and situations rarely depicted. While Netflix’s Orange ... Read More

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FX’s new show Tyrant is unlike anything currently on television. Showcasing Arab characters and cultures, set in the Middle East, the 10-episode first season is a bold step towards showing American audiences people and situations rarely depicted. While Netflix’s Orange is the New Black is deservedly lauded for filling the frame with three dimensional female characters who are black, brown, gay and transgendered, Tyrant will put faces on our screen who have too often been portrayed as villains or marginal characters at best.

The show focuses on the story of Bassam Al Fayeed (Adam Rayner), the son of a dictator in the fictional country of Baladi, who has been living in Los Angeles in contented, self-selected exile with his American wife, Molly (Jennifer Finnigan) and their two teenage children. Bassam, who goes by Barry now, reluctantly travels back to Baladi to attend the wedding of his nephew, where he’s reunited with his family for the first time in 20-years.

The pilot was directed by David Yates (Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, Parts 1&2) and written by Gideon Raff (the creator of the Israeli inspiration for Homeland), plunging us into Barry’s increasingly unstable predicament once he returns home. Barry’s father, and his home country, exist in a post Arab-spring world, and soon enough Barry’s life is turned completely upside down as his homeland and his family’s troubles become his own. The production itself is not immune from the realities of world it’s set in—it recently announced a move to film in Turkey while tensions mount in the Gaza Strip.

Cynthia Schneider, co-director of Muslims on Screen and Television Initiative (MOST), sat down with Glenn Gordon Caron, executive producer and writer on FX’s new show Tyrant, and Ramy Yaacoub, the deputy director of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, to discuss the show, the implications of trying to depict the complex and often misunderstood world of Arab culture for an American audience, and how Hollywood might better depict the Arab world.

 

Featured image: Cynthia Schneider, Ramy Yaacoub and Glenn Gordon Caron. Photo Credit: Jonathan Mount Photography

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Taiwan, Paris & the Presidio: A Global Village Creates Lucy http://www.thecredits.org/2014/07/taiwan-paris-the-presidio-a-global-village-creates-lucy/ http://www.thecredits.org/2014/07/taiwan-paris-the-presidio-a-global-village-creates-lucy/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 14:30:03 +0000 http://www.thecredits.org/?p=11098 Filmmaker Luc Besson has a thing for dangerous women. In 1990 Besson gave us Nikita, a felon-turned-assassin in La Feme Nikita. Four years later he came back with The Professional, in which a young girl named Mathilda (Natalie Portman) is ... Read More

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Filmmaker Luc Besson has a thing for dangerous women. In 1990 Besson gave us Nikita, a felon-turned-assassin in La Feme Nikita. Four years later he came back with The Professional, in which a young girl named Mathilda (Natalie Portman) is trained by professional assassin Léon (Jean Reno) after her family is killed in a police raid. And three short years after that, Besson created his most powerful woman to date, Leeloo (Milla Jovovich), in his color saturated sci-fi romp The Fifth Element.

 

The Story

Scarlett Johansson is 'Lucy' in Luc Besson's action-thriller. Courtesy Universal Pictures.

Scarlett Johansson is ‘Lucy’ in Luc Besson’s action-thriller. Courtesy Universal Pictures.

For his latest film, Lucy, a script Besson had been noodling with for more than a decade, he’s created perhaps his most potent female character of them all. Played by Scarlett Johansson, Lucy isn’t trained in the dark arts by an assassin/mentor, nor is she a cosmic weapon, but rather a regular young woman who’s forcibly turned into a drug mule, only to have the drug leak into her bloodstream and give her access to increasing percentages of her brain. Every jump in percentage gives Lucy fresh insights and new powers. Before long, she’s manipulating reality like Neo while serving up vengeance with the undeniable cool of Jules from Pulp Fiction (while still looking like Scarlett Johansson, no less).

In order to build some credibility into his story, Besson contacted Neurologist Yves Agid, co-founder of the Brain & Spine Institute based at Pitié-Salpetriére Hospital in Paris. Besson decided that the drug Lucy would be forcibly fed would actually be a natural substance produced by pregnant women in the sixth week of natal development, called CPH4. The idea was that this drug would unlock the vast potential inside all of our brains. “Lucy begins colonizing her own brain, accessing 20 percent, 30 percent, 40 percent…she can’t stop it, she doesn’t want all this power and she doesn’t know what to do with it,” Besson said in the production notes.

Besson came up with a chart that Johansson could follow so she could match her performance to the percentage of brainpower Lucy was accessing. “For every ten percent, we charted out what you could do with that percentage,” Besson said. “It was a very good guide. Every morning she’d look at the chart to see which girl she had to play. If you look at Lucy at the beginning and the Lucy at the end, they have little in common.”

 

The Locations

In 1997 Besson was on a promotional tour for The Fifth Element in Taipei, Taiwan. He felt an immediate connection to the city and its people, and this is where he set much of the action in his first version of Lucy, written ten years ago. After considering several Asian cities for budget and logistical reasons, the production ended up right where Besson had intended, even the very hotel he hstayed in 20 years ago.

Taipei hasn’t been used all that much by filmmakers. The Taipei Times reports Martin Scorsese will be filming there for his upcoming Silence, about two 17th century Jesuit priests facing violence and persecution in Japan, but Besson is beating the drum for more filmmakers to utilize the city. Taipei presents something of a filmmaker’s dream—within 100 miles you have skyscrapers, ocean, forests and mountains.

Once Lucy flees Taiwan, she ends up in Besson’s hometown, which goes some way to explain how he was able to shoot a wild car chase going the wrong way on one of the busiest and most famous streets in Paris, the Rue de Rivoli. Besson filmed thet chase in the middle of summer when there are fewer people on the streets, sending his heroine down the busy four-lane, one way street between the Louvre and Concorde Square, at top speed, against traffic.

Besson utilized his nine-studio facility for the wholesale destruction that occurs around Lucy at practically all times. He shot several key sequences inside his 102,500 square foot Cité du Cinéma, just outside of the city. This is where Besson and his team recreated portions of the Sorbonne, each of which would need to be hole punched by bullets and obliterated by explosives. Besson, who dropped out of college, poured more than 2,000 rounds of bullets into the Sorbonne’s walls, the faces of its sculptures and the marble floors. “The funny thing is that the Sorbonne is all about knowledge, but I dropped out of school at an early age to make films. Now, here I was, making a film on knowledge and intelligence and destroying the ultimate embodiment of self knowledge.”

Cité du Cinéma filled in for not only the Sorbonne, but also interiors of a luxurious Taipei hotel suite that would also undergo some explosive remodeling. Lucy involved more than 1,000 special effect shots, which meant that there was another location Bresson would have to utilize to see his vision through—the Industrial Light & Magic headquarters in San Francisco.

Senior visual effects supervisor Nicholas Brooks oversaw the process of turning Lucy’s world of manipulating matter into reality. When the conceit of your film is an ordinary woman becoming capable of bending reality to her will, it requires wizards not only of sight but sound. Skywalker Sound’s Shannon J. Mills, whose work has made blockbusters Avatar and Titanic a sonic spectacle, worked with sound editor Guillaume Bouchateau and two-time Oscar winning sound mixer David Parker (The Bourne Ultimatum, The English Patient) to make Lucy as mesmerizing on the ears as it is on the eyes. Besson also managed to get Blur and Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn to write a new song for the film, “Sister Rust,” a melodic ballad that closes Lucy’s epic story.

Besson likes to get involved in every part of the production process thanks in large part to having worked in almost department before he became a director. Whether he’s touching up some fake blood or going over the set design, the director is involved deeply in the film because he has such a clear vision of what he’s trying to accomplish. What Besson does most often on set, however, is hover by the camera or hold one himself and commune with his actors. “I like to be very close to the actors. I’ve realized that when you say, ‘Action,’ it’s like sticking a syringe in the actor’s arm. It’s an anesthetic. Between the moment you say, ‘Action’ and ‘Cut,’ he’s on an anesthetic. He’s someone else. So I don’t want to break that.”

Besson’s made a career of creating films that are like shots of adrenalin themselves. He’s been a writer on all of the films in the hyper kinetic Transporter series, as well as the writer/director of Taken 2, and Lucy appears to be another mad dash of a film. Yet Professor Agid, the man Besson sought out to ground some of his film in reality, said after watching the film that Lucy is a “contribution to knowledge on the brain.” Agid believes the film will inspire people to want to learn more about the brain, our most crucial organ and the one most shrouded in mystery. “I want people to come out of the film and say, ‘Oh my God! I’d love to find out more about the brain and intelligence,” Besson said.

Featured image: Scarlett Johansson is Lucy. Courtesy Universal Pictures.

 

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Monkey See, Monkey Do: Fifty Years of Politics Surrounding the Apes Franchise http://www.thecredits.org/2014/07/monkey-see-monkey-do-fifty-years-of-politics-surrounding-the-apes-franchise/ http://www.thecredits.org/2014/07/monkey-see-monkey-do-fifty-years-of-politics-surrounding-the-apes-franchise/#comments Fri, 11 Jul 2014 14:30:19 +0000 http://www.thecredits.org/?p=11085 The hype for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is unavoidable. Rave reviews are already flooding the internet and much has been made about the cutting-edge motion capture technology that renders the apes shockingly realistic, but the parallels of ... Read More

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The hype for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is unavoidable. Rave reviews are already flooding the internet and much has been made about the cutting-edge motion capture technology that renders the apes shockingly realistic, but the parallels of violence and struggles for peace have also captured viewers’ attentions. The Apes movies have always served as allegories, influenced by the political, social, economic and environmental issues of their times, as did the inspiration for the franchise: the Pierre Boulle’s novel. To develop a deeper understanding of the franchise, here is a little historical context for the thematic issues in the novel and the films (and television series) that it spawned.

Pierre Boulle’s 1963 nove, “Planet of the Apes.” 

Boulle’s novel was published in France in 1963 during a time when French society was undergoing an array of changes and social tumult. The sustained anxiety of the Cold War era was especially vivid in France, where the country was plunged into escalating violence as Algerians pushed for independence from French rule. French settlers protested and chaos ensued in North Africa, while President Charles de Gaulle set out to make France a nuclear power. Boulle wasn’t merely using the high drama of the time to fuel his writing—he was actively involve din it. He served as a secret agent with the Free French in Singapore, where he was captured and subjected to two years of forced labor. As many imprisoned writers before him, Boulle used his time served as inspiration—it was the basis for his other famous book, “The Bridge on the River Kwai.”

In “Planet of the Apes,” readers follow human Ulysse’s journey through space to a future where sophisticated apes rule and humans, thought to be dumb, are used in lab experiments. Ulysse is able to eventually free himself, and learns that human civilization collapsed when enslaved apes rose up against their human masters. Ulysse and his (human) female companion eventually flee and return to Earth, only to find that their home planet is now ruled by apes. The inequality, colonialism and imprisonment Boulle saw and experience in his life charged his uncanny novel with a vitality that would spawn a franchise covering some fifty years.

Planet of the Apes (1968)

The American movie franchise began with the original Planet of the Apes in 1968, a year of immense turmoil and change. You had Nixon in office, growing opposition to the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement (which would be rocked, two months after the film’s release, by the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.) and environmentalists agitating to protect the planet. The original film’s themes of government corruption, environmental degradation, and species-based conflict were all drawn from the schisms happening throughout the country.

Planet of the Apes greatly pushed the cinematic envelope, utilizing makeup and prosthetics, sci-fi plots, and compositional techniques, helping it to win a variety of accolades including an honorary Academy Award for outstanding make-up achievement and Oscar nominations for Best Costume Design and Best Original Score for a Motion Picture (not a Musical). Far from a sci-fi romp, the filmmakers and actors alike took their adaptation as seriously as Boulle did his novel. During filming, the actors would self-segregate off-camera into different primate species and humans depending on their character. The National Film Registry also recognized the film in 2001 and selected it for preservation. And then there’s that iconic ending. There are few cinematic finales as deathless as Charlton Heston, playing our hero George Taylor, coming upon the ruins of the Statue of Liberty and shouting, “You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!”  The line has lived on in pop culture, immortalized again and again in shows like The Simpsons, Family Guy and The Big Bang Theory.

Four more Apes films followed, in quick succession. Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971), Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) and Battle for Planet of the Apes (1973) expanded Boulle’s original concept into a full blown Apes universe.

Planet of the Apes TV Series, 14 Episodes (1974)

Hoping to capitalize on the popularity of the Apes franchise, CBS ordered a fourteen episode show that would build on the world and, hopefully, becoming a ratings juggernaut. Unfortunately, the show bombed and was soon cancelled. While most of the episodes remained fluffy, focusing on two astronauts who crash-landed on an ape-ruled planet and the chimp sidekick they pick up along the way, one episode was so edgy that CBS decided not to air it. This risqué episode examines the creation of poisonous gas, and the morality of using such a weapon of mass destruction. Set to air during the height of the Watergate Scandal, the Vietnam War protests and the Agent Orange controversy, the network shelved it. The episode was, however, eventually aired during reruns years later.

Return to the Planet of the Apes Animated TV Series, 13 Episodes (1975)

The cartoon version of the Apes world was not particularly lauded by viewers or critics, either, hence its quick cancellation. The show was the last gasp of the Apes franchise for a good number of years.

Planet of the Apes (2001)

The Tim Burton reboot, such a great idea in theory (Tim Burton! Apes!) was a surprise critical flop while still earning some decent BO; in fact, many advise first time Apes watchers to avoid Burton’s film altogether. Mark Wahlberg, Helena Bonham Carter, Tim Roth and Paul Giamatti constitute a strong cast, but the film muted their gifts, as well as Burton’s vitality and originality as a filmmaker, mostly due to a weak script.

The studio went through a number of screenwriters before settling on William Broyles, Jr. and even his drafts were rewritten, resulting in a muddled screenplay. The film was intended to be more in keeping with the novel, but instead left viewers perplexed. Burton focused his attentions on the actors’ portrayals of the primates and even made actors attend “ape school” to perfect their simian movements, not unlike the work Andy Serkis and the talented cast of ape actors put in for the two most recent films, but the story didn’t cohere.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes + Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2011-14)

This newest chapter in the Apes franchise continues to push boundaries, though it no longer relies on makeup to draw the audience into the simian world. These two films focus on the perspective of the apes, with chimp Caesar (played by Andy Serkis) as your undeniable star. The ape actors took off the prosthetics and began donning technologically advanced motion-capture suits to portray their primate characters. In Dawn Of the Planet of the Apes, released today, director Matt Reeves took filming to the rainforests outside Vancouver to make filming extra challenging (and the scenes more realistic).

Dawn reflects our current political climate, touching on issues like gun control and paradoxical peace through violence. Two of the few words Caesar roars in the beginning of the film are, “No guns!” The movie is fraught with mistrust as apes and humans struggle to ascertain who is a threat and who can be trusted. The viewers themselves are unsure of the answer to this question as both factions warrant sympathy. Each group is rendered complexly, with the power struggles coming between characters who truly believe what they are doing to be just. The actions that each side feels must be taken to protect themselves, sometimes preemptively, resonate in a world in which the seemingly oxymoronic term “preemptive war” became such a crucial part of the lexicon in the first decade of this century. The film reminds us that fear can make followers of us all, and the consequences that come from being blinded by prejudice.

Since Boulle offered the source material with his novel, through the five original films, the television series (both live action and animated), to the three films of this century, the world of human-ape conflict has now spanned roughly fifty years. Many of the iterations have managed to capture topical issues facing society, with varying degrees of subtlety and grace. Whether your allegiances lie with the apes or the humans (or maybe just Maurice the orangutan in the last two films, who is impossible not to love), the Apes series has made for compelling viewing, with this latest film giving you much to mull, long after the 3D glasses come off.

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