The Credits Celebrating Film and Television's Creative Community Thu, 28 Aug 2014 20:28:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Moira Walley-Beckett: Emmy-Winning Writer of Breaking Bad‘s Best Episode Thu, 28 Aug 2014 14:30:43 +0000 After the 14th episode in Breaking Bad’s final season aired, creator and showrunner Vince Gilligan called it “the best episode we ever had or ever will have.” Titled “Ozymandias” after Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem, it was the third-to-last episode in the series, ... Read More

After the 14th episode in Breaking Bad’s final season aired, creator and showrunner Vince Gilligan called it “the best episode we ever had or ever will have.” Titled “Ozymandias” after Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem, it was the third-to-last episode in the series, and it was the one that, more so than any other in the show’s incredible run, crushed viewers. Death, betrayal and, at long last, the removal of any lingering hope that Walter White might somehow keep his family. It was an excruciating, exhilarating hour of television.

“Ozymandias” is considered by many to be one of the finest hours of television this century, period. Behind the scenes, the leading creative forces that crafted this unbearably intense experience were director Rian Johnson and writer Moira Walley-Beckett. The two had worked together on season three’s episode “Fly,” where Walt nearly revealed a terrible secret to Jesse but held off. In “Ozymandias,” there was no more time to waste and no reason to omit anything—in one breathtaking moment in an episode full of them, Walt finally comes clean to Jesse about what happened to his girlfriend, Jane…in order to hurt him.

“I watched Jane die…I was there, and I watched her die, I watched her overdose and choke to death. I could have saved her. But I didn’t.”


“It was kind of great that I got to dance to the edge of him saying it in “Fly,” Walley-Beckett told The Hollywood Reporter, “and he would have said it for entirely different reasons back then. He would have said it out of profound guilt and shame and self-recrimination. He would have said it out of love. To come to it in ‘Ozymandias’ and have him say it out of vile hatred—he basically murders him in that scene.”

This past Monday night Walley-Beckett became the first woman in 20 years to win an Emmy Award for drama writing. The last woman to do it, Ann Biderman, took home an Emmy in 1994 for writing the season one NYPD Blue episode “Steroid Bay.” Between Biderman and Walley-Beckett, every woman who won the category has shared the award with men. Walley-Becket also beat the man who hired her some five years earlier, Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan, who was nominated for writing the finale, “Felina.” (She also beat out four more men; David Benioff and D.B. Weiss for Game of Thrones, Beau Willimon for House of Cards and Nic Pizzolatto for True Detective.)

Walley-Beckett came on board Breaking Bad after season one, before the show had been green lit to continue. The way she went about this was by, more or less, going against a major convention of writing for TV—she wrote a spec script for a show she wanted to write for. The reason this is essentially taboo in Hollywood is for legal reasons, as she explained in a fantastic interview with Kessler University that I urge you to read. After writing her way into the sights of Vince Gilligan, she had to decide between taking a chance on a little known show about a meth dealing science teacher that might not get a second season, or, take an lucrative offer to write for a network show. “I was going to make half of the money on Breaking Bad that I would have made on this other show but it didn’t matter because I knew that Breaking Bad was the right place for me.”

Walley-Beckett’s road to writing “Ozymandias” involved a little luck on top of the gumption she showed in nabbing a job in the writer’s room in the first place. As she explained to both Vulture and The Hollywood Reporter, the order of which writer gets which episode is determined in advance, and the chips happened to fall on her for an episode whose plot points were incendiary. “The process goes you write an outline first, and on Breaking Bad those are like little novellas, fifteen to twenty pages of the story of the episode,” she told Vulture. “You turn it in and then you get about ten days to write your episode and you just go away and do it. It’s intense.” When the episode finally aired on September 15, 2013, she told The Hollywood Reporter the response was overwhelming. “Pretty much everything that every character had been dreading happened. People went crazy.”

Moira Walley-Beckket crafting 'Ozymandias.'

Moira Walley-Beckket crafting ‘Ozymandias.’

“Ozymandias” opens with a flashback to Walt and Jesse’s very first meth cook. This scene was actually the very last one ever shot on the show, filmed a month after they wrapped on the episode. Walt’s got hair, a mustache and morals. Jesse is a high school dropout without any deep scars, facial or emotional. “To get to go back to the beginning, it was so powerfully nostalgic for all of us,” Walley-Beckett told Vulture. “To have the very last day of series filming take place back in the good old days of Mr. White and idiot Jesse…it was so fantastic for all of us to go back in time and be there at the beginning before everything went so wrong.”

Only where we’re left after the flashback opening is in the desert, the location so evocatively, distressingly described in Percy Shelley’s poem, a wasteland of total indifference. The Nazis, led by Uncle Jack, stand over a wounded Hank. Actor Dean Norris said in the episode’s behind-the-scene featurette that he had said to Gilligan and the writers that if Hank had to die, it would be nice for him to know it was coming, to not just be blindsided by Walt or one of the many killers that lurked throughout the narrative. Walley-Beckett wrote Hank a seven page scene in which he would be well aware, the entire time, that he would never be coming out of that desert.

Walley-Beckett threaded hints of the old Walter White throughout an episode whose consequences were set into motion by the actions of his alter ego, Heisenberg. Walter offers all of his remaining money, some $80 million, to Uncle Jack if he will spare Hank’s life. Only Hank, the seasoned DEA agent, knows his fate is sealed. Walley-Beckett lets Hank die with his dignity intact, and whatever delusions Walt was still harboring at the time that he did all of this “for his family” were obliterated with the sound of that gun going off.

Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) - Breaking Bad _ Season 5, Episode 14 - Photo Credit: Ursula Coyote/AMC

Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) -Episode 14 – Photo Credit: Ursula Coyote/AMC

Hank’s death would be the darkest moment in just about every other show, ever, but the horrors of “Ozymandias” were only just beginning. Walt goes on to turn on Jesse, who was hiding under the car in the desert. Jesse is saved at the last second by the sociopath Todd, and wins himself torture and indentured servitude to cook meth for the Nazis. But not before Walt can finish telling him what he had been about way back in season three’s episode “Fly.” Walley-Beckett told Vulture that Walt wanted to hurt him as much as possible. “Jesse is no longer family,” she says, and for Walt, telling Jesse that he let Jane die was “the last thing he can say or do to kill Jesse himself without actually physically killing him.”

When Walt goes home, after having gotten Hank murdered and written Jesse’s death certificate, as well, he gets into a horrific knife fight of sorts with Skyler in front of their newborn child and consistently put upon son Walt Jr. Walt Jr. turns against his own dad, calling the cops, and Walt has finally lost his family for good. And what does Walt do? He kidnaps baby Holly, the last, desperate act of an animal.

Skyler White (Anna Gunn) after Walt has snatched baby Holly and taken off. Photo Credit: Ursula Coyote/AMC

Skyler White (Anna Gunn) after Walt has snatched baby Holly and taken off. Photo Credit: Ursula Coyote/AMC

Walter with Holly in a public restroom after fleeing his home. Photo Credit: Ursula Coyote/AMC

Walter with Holly in a public restroom after fleeing his home. Photo Credit: Ursula Coyote/AMC

In an episode filled with so many heartbreaking moments—Hank’s line to Walt that Uncle Jack had made up his mind to kill him “ten minutes ago” comes to mind—one of the most shocking, and complex, was Walt’s call to Skyler after he fled with baby Holly. When this call begins, we are so overwhelmed by the ferocity of Walt’s rage that it takes some time to unpack what is really going on here. Over the course of five seasons, and Walt’s countless unspeakable acts, we have never heard him speak to Skyler like this before. It’s awful to hear. So awful, Walley-Beckett could only hope that viewers were able to piece together the call’s true meaning. Skyler is not alone when she takes the call—she is with the police.

I personally feel like it wasn’t open to interpretation,” she told Vulture shortly after the episode aired. “I would hope that people got that it was an absolute ploy on Walt’s part. It is the family-man part of Walt playing the part of Heisenberg to exonerate Skyler. I was hoping that the process of the lie and the subterfuge would be clear and that viewers would be with Skyler in their understanding.”

Skyler White (Anna Gunn) - Breaking Bad _ Season 5, Episode 14 - Photo Credit: Ursula Coyote/AMC

Skyler White (Anna Gunn) speaks to Walt for the last timte. Photo Credit: Ursula Coyote/AMC

Yet part of the beauty of this scene, and Walley-Beckett’s writing, is how what Walt is saying to Skyler is not just to save her, to exonerate her in the eyes of the law and place the blame entirely on him, but also to unburden himself and the way he feels. There is some truth to all the hateful venom he’s spewing. “In the writing of it and the breaking of it we talk a lot about the line between truth and fiction. There are things in there that are truth, but it’s all subterfuge. It’s a very fine line.”

Walt’s speech was really a challenge, how to lay the track for the subterfuge for the lie, finding all the beats for when you think Walt just slipped and become a Heisenbergian monster on the phone,” she told Vulture, “to dropping in the little moments of Skyler’s rage and indignation, and the process of the lie, and Skyler’s acceptance of the lie. That was a really tricky scene to write.” 

Walter: What the hell is wrong with you? Why can’t you do one thing I say? This is your fault! This is what comes with your disrespect! I told you Skyler, I warned you for a solid year, you crossed me there will be consequences. What part of that didn’t you understand?

Skyler: You took my child.

Walt: ‘Cuz you need to learn!

Skyler: You bring her back!

Walter: Maybe now you’ll listen. Maybe now you’ll use your damn head. You know, you never believed in me. You were never grateful for anything I did for this family. [Mocking her] ‘Oh no! Walt! Walt! You have to stop! You have to stop this! It’s immoral! It’s illegal! Someone might get hurt!’ You’re always whining and complaining about how I make my money, dragging me down while I do everything. And now, now you tell my son what I do? After I’ve told you and told you to keep your damn mouth shut? You stupid bitch. How dare you.

When Walt hangs up, he is a broken man. We see that he’s on a pay phone right outside a fire station, where he will leave baby Holly so she can be saved, so his family can be reunited in the only way they can—with him gone.

Featured image: Walter White (Bryan Cranston) – Breaking Bad _ Season 5, Episode 14 – Photo Credit: Ursula Coyote/AMC

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BK 101: How International Cast & Crew of The Drop Studied Brooklyn Wed, 27 Aug 2014 12:20:10 +0000 A Belgian, a Brit and a Swede walk into a Brooklyn bar. This is either the beginning of that rare joke involving Belgians and Swedes, or, it’s exactly what was happening when the cast and crew behind The Drop were working their butts ... Read More

A Belgian, a Brit and a Swede walk into a Brooklyn bar. This is either the beginning of that rare joke involving Belgians and Swedes, or, it’s exactly what was happening when the cast and crew behind The Drop were working their butts off to become credible Brooklynites while prepping for the crime thriller. Directed by the Belgian Michaël Roskam, and starring Tom Hardy (British) and Noomi Rapace (Swedish), much of the cast and a good number of the crew are from outside the U.S., and they put themselves through a crash course of understanding New York’s most populous borough. The late, great James Gandolfini was one of the few members of the cast who didn’t need a dialect coach.

Tom Hardy as “Bob” and Matthias Schoenaerts as “Eric Deeds” in THE DROP. Photo by Barry Wetcher. Copyright © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox.

The British Tom Hardy is Bob, the Belgian Matthias Schoenaerts is Eric Deeds in the Brooklyn-set crime thriller ‘The Drop.’ Photo by Barry Wetcher. Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox.

The Drop is based on “Animal Rescue,” the short story master crime novelist Dennis Lehane, which Lehane adapted himself for the screen (his first screenplay). The story involves a bartender and overall loner named Bob (Tom Hardy) who finds a pit bull puppy in the trash. The puppy sets into a motion a series of events that begin to open Bob back up to the world, including meeting the pup’s owner, the comely Nadia, played by Noomi Rapace). Bob tends bar at his Cousin Marv’s bar (Marv is played by Gandolfini), and Cousin Marvy’s bar is one of many “drop bars,” where organized crime members can launder their money. The Drop‘s plot kicks into overdrive when Cousin Marv’s bar is robbed, and the real owners, the Chechen mafia, come want their money back at all costs.

Yet “Animal Rescue,” like much of Lehane’s work, was set in the mean streets of working class Boston. Lehane has said that, thanks in part to the films adapted from his Boston-set crime novels Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone, as well as Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, Boston’s rough and tumble side has been thoroughly explored in the past decade.

The producers of The Drop had asked Lehane if he would be open to changing his story’s setting, which he was okay with so long as they could find a neighborhood that originally grew up around the Catholic Church and still feels the Church is an important, if fading, authority, keeping the conflicted heart of his gangster story in tact. This requirement knocked down the possible number of locations considerably, and they really preferred using an old, East Coast city. They narrowed their list down to New York, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Philly.

When they settled on filming in Brooklyn, the city’s most populous borough, they needed to find neighborhoods that still retained the blue-collar, Church-going sensibility that had been carved out by generations of immigrants. The gentrification of the borough, the subject of the heated argument between New York Times film critic A.O. Scott and Spike Lee, meant once sure bet neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Park Slope would no longer work the way they once did. Yet Brooklyn is vast, and location manager Keith Adams and his team had plenty of neighborhoods that still could work. Itt wasn’t just a scouting mission but a research mission as well, not only for the Belgian director and British and Swedish stars, but his Belgian cinematographer, too. Shooting on location would help, but if the filmmakers didn’t make a real effort to get to know the borough, they risked filming what could have amounted to a series of pastiche Brooklyn images—Coney Island, the Brooklyn Bridge, a butcher shop, a florist with and some old brownstones come to mind.

The resulting production used several neighborhoods throughout the borough, including Sheesphead Bay, Marine Park, Windsor Terrace and Fort Greene (Spike Lee’s birthplace, no less). Considering this is a film whose entire conceit is based on bars doubling as drop points for organized crime to launder their cash, the director and his team scouted these locations from bar to bar to bar, interacting with the locals, listening to their stories, clocking the way they spoke and dressed and behaved. “We met with people who told us stories about the mobsters and gangsters in their neighborhood,” Roskam said in the press notes.

The Park Tavern in Marine Park was transformed into Cousin Marv's Bar.

The Park Tavern in Marine Park was transformed into Cousin Marv’s Bar.

The most important of those bars wasn’t actually open, the Park Tavern—it belonged to Mark Holstrom, located on 3858 Flatlands Ave in Marine Park. This became Cousin Marv’s Bar, where the crucial robbery takes place. “They picked my joint because I closed it a few years ago,” Holstrom told Denis Hamil of the New York Daily News. “Because it was empty they could use the bar for the whole shoot. I was a big fan of The Sopranos and thought Gandolifni was a tremendous actor,” he said. Holstrom told Gandolfini that if he ever wanted a break from the set, to meet him in Salvi’s Italian restaurant around the corner. Gandolfini never took him up on it, but Roskam and Hardy did. They played eight-man poker there so the Hardy could hear those Brooklyn accents up close and personal. “James Gandolifni didn’t need help with the Brooklyn dialogue,” Holstrom said.

Cousin Marv's Bar. Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Cousin Marv’s Bar. Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Cinematographer Nicolas Karaktsanis helped stitch together the bits and pieces from these different neighborhoods into a cohesive, if slightly mythical, version of Brooklyn. Director Roskam trained as a painter before getting into filmmaking, and along with Karaktsanis and production designer Thérèse DePrez drew inspiration from the art of George Wesley Bellows, a Brooklyn native who painted urban life in the early 20th century. Bellows created lush, bold canvases of Brooklyn life (as well as the famous boxing painting “Stag Night at Sharkeys”). New York was smiling on the filmmakers—the Metropolitan Museum of Art had a Bellows show while they were in pre-production, and Roskam took his DP and production designer to see it.

Costume designer David Robinson has lived in Brooklyn for more than 30 years, yet the film allowed him to explore areas of the borough he didn’t have as much first hand knowledge of. Because the lighting in Cousin Marv’s bar is dark, Robison used a lot of bigger colors, like yellows, blues and ocher. Robinson joined Roskam for Super Bowl Sunday at Joe’s Bar in Marine Park to see how the local working-class customers dressed.

Joe's Pub

Joe’s Bar, Marine Park, Brooklyn, NY.

The look Robinson created was based on what he found in Gravesend, Marine Park and elsewhere in Brooklyn. A poker party in Gravesend with Mark Holstrom and his fellow retired firemen clued the costume designer in on several common themes in their style—light washed jeans, logos, and very clean, well maintained sneakers.

Dialect coach Jerome Butler was brought in to help get the international actors speaking a version of one of the most recognizable (and mimicked, and often mauled) American accents there is. Butler couldn’t just work each actor over with the same methods, either. Hardy is a native English speaker, so Butler had him play a straight Brooklyn accent, but the same couldn’t be said for the Swedish Rapace. Butler allowed for Rapace’s accent to sound slightly different from Hardy’s, owing to Brooklyn’s multiethnic demographic, stating that she might have come to the city at 12 or 18.

The Swedish Noomi Rapace tailored her accent to one of the many multiethnic Brooklyn residents you'll find throughout the borough. Courtesy Fox Searchlight.

The Swedish Noomi Rapace tailored her accent to one of the many multiethnic Brooklyn residents you’ll find throughout the borough. Courtesy Fox Searchlight.

“Brooklyn has a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic sound and we worked with a cast that bring different sounds to the table,” Butler said. “Nadia, the character that Noomi plays, speaks to the reality of Brooklyn and of the United States in general. People come from other places. They make a life. Their children grow up listening to the language that their parents spoke, and blend it with the sounds that they hear in the neighborhoods, and we have a hybrid. But they are all ‘from the neighborhood.’”  The Belgian Matthias Schoenarts, who plays Nadia’s ex-boyfriend and dangerous interloper Eric, loves doing the Brooklyn accent, and his practice (perhaps mimicking Travis Bickle, as every single person of a certain age has done) made him a quick study.

Yet it’s more than just the accent, it’s the specific rhythm and attitude and energy inherent in a Brooklyn dialect that Butler was going for. “The New York dialect is instantly recognizable,” he said in the press notes “And the Brooklyn dialect has been a part of American movies from the Three Stooges, all the way through Spike Lee and Darren Aronofsky.”

Who knows what Spike will think, but one has to assume he’d at least be appreciative of these international filmmakers coming to the real Brooklyn, or Brooklyn(s), for that matter, and learning a little about the borough that, were it an independent city, would be the fourth biggest in the United States.

Featured image: Tom Hardy as Bob” in The Drop. Photo by Barry Wetcher. Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.


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Saying Goodbye to James Gandolfini in The Drop Tue, 26 Aug 2014 13:24:41 +0000 James Gandolfini’s final film performance can be seen this September 12 in The Drop, directed by Michaël Roskam. The script, the first by master crime writer Dennis Lehane, is based on his short story “Animal Rescue.” Gandolfini plays Cousin Marv, a once formidable Brooklyn ... Read More

James Gandolfini’s final film performance can be seen this September 12 in The Dropdirected by Michaël Roskam. The script, the first by master crime writer Dennis Lehane, is based on his short story “Animal Rescue.” Gandolfini plays Cousin Marv, a once formidable Brooklyn heavy who now runs his namesake bar, a place that does a little more than provide drinks to thirsty locals. Cousin Marv’s place is a also a ‘drop bar,’ one of a selection of watering holes where members of organized crime stash away money that can’t be put in any bank. The idea of a drop bar came to Lehane through the research that he’s amassed over the years for his novels, three of which became the films Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone and Shutter Island, although the drop bar is a Lehane invention, coming from rumors and whispers he heard over the years, nothing more.  “I’m a big believer in Einstein’s line that imagination is sometimes more important than knowledge,” he said in the press notes. “I didn’t get too hung up on what may or may not exist in the real world, because the story is more ‘once upon a time in Brooklyn.’” Who better to have manning your drop bar than Gandolfini, an actor who was at the peak of his powers when the film was being shot last March.

James Gandolfini and Tom Hardy in 'The Drop.' Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.

James Gandolfini and Tom Hardy in ‘The Drop.’ Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Gandolfini was surrounded by a cast of excellent international actors, due in large part to the Belgian director Roskam’s deep roster of European connections. The Drop is really the story of Marv’s younger cousin, Bob Saginowski, played by the British Tom Hardy (if you only know him as Bane, see him in last year’s remarkable Locke). Bob is a reticent, withdrawn loner tending bar at Marv’s, dealing with the drops and doing his best to stay out of trouble and at a remove from life itself. One day, Bob finds an abandoned pit bull puppy, which leads him to a young woman, Nadia (Noomi Rapace, Swedish, the original Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo). The two begin to care for the dog, and Bob slowly starts to reconnect with life. The puppy’s owner, Eric Deeds (the formidable Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts from 2012′s Rust and Bone) and Nadia’s former boyfriend, comes into the picture demanding the return of his dog and ‘his’ woman. Complicating Bob and Marv’s life exponentially is a robbery at the bar, which brings the real owners of the small pub into the picture—the Chechen mafia. Now the deck is dangerously set against the two cousins.

In Lehane’s original short story (which he intended to be a novel but just couldn’t make work) and the first draft of his script, Marv was a minor character. Once news of Gandolfini’s interest spread, however, Lehane reworked the script to give Marv more of a role to fit the late actor’s incredible talent. “As soon as Jimmy Gandolfini was cast, I actually wrote more lines because I know there’s a certain pitch to my dialogue with certain characters,” Lehane said. “It’s extremely hard for most actors and Jimmy was the sweet spot. I couldn’t have dreamed of a better Cousin Marv. The last thing I did on the script was to flesh him out more and give him extra lines because I knew he could handle it. That was a joy.” Marv is the character who is “chasing the past harder than anyone else,” Lehane said. “He blinked when some tougher guys came along and he’s never gotten over it, so he’s making one last-ditch effort to grab the brass ring.”

James Gandolfini on the set of 'The Drop' with the director Michaël Roskam.

James Gandolfini on the set of ‘The Drop’ with the director Michaël Roskam.

Director Michaël Roskam, who’s 2011 Bullhead was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film (and starred Schoenaerts), said he was surprised to find Gandolfini on set when he wasn’t due to shoot a scene or rehearse. “It was amazing to work with a guy who had such a track record,” Roskam said. “He was so experienced, and yet he would question himself so hard. I finally understood that that’s how he approached every character. He started blank, like the notebook he carried with him. He analyzed the journey of his character and he wrote it all out. He allowed himself to be very vulnerable and insecure with me. I think he was afraid that I would be intimidated and tell him everything he did was good.”

Hardy said that Gandolfini’s power was such that he felt he failed him at times. “I felt I failed Jimmy several times simply because I was enjoying watching him work when I should have been working too.”

It’s hard to reconcile that this will be the last film role we ever see James Gandolflini play, but the fact that he played it with his usual dedication, commitment and humility is not surprising.

Featured image: James Gandolfini is Cousin Marv and Tom Hardy is Bob in The Drop. Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures. 


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Filming The November Man in Beautiful Belgrade Mon, 25 Aug 2014 14:30:41 +0000 The entire process of filmmaking, from script to post, is about problem solving. The inviolable law of the medium is often Murphy’s Law, and filmmakers find themselves having to reverse course, rewrite, restructure, rethink their film due to some fresh ... Read More

The entire process of filmmaking, from script to post, is about problem solving. The inviolable law of the medium is often Murphy’s Law, and filmmakers find themselves having to reverse course, rewrite, restructure, rethink their film due to some fresh problem. Yet, as David Mamet memorably wrote in one of his must read books on filmmaking (he has a few) “Bambi vs. Godzilla,” often it’s the problems that occur and their unexpected consequences that can make a scene, or even a film, great. “Near the end of filming a movie, I lose an important location, and several months of planning and preparation go out the window,” Mamet writes “This, however, must be viewed as a blessing, as it forces me to, once again, reduce the scene from the pictorial to the schematic.” Mamet mentions Steven Spielberg’s confession after shooting Jaws that “the brilliance ascribed to him in withholding the appearance of the shark until halfway through that film must be credited, instead, to the mechanical shark, which refused to function when the cameras turned.”

So what does this have to do with The November Man? Based on Bill Granger’s novel “There Are No Spies,” the script by Michael Finch and Kari Gajdusek was five years in the making. The story is about an ex-CIA operative Peter Deveraux (Pierce Bronsan), code named ‘The November Man,’ who is lured out of retirement to protect a witness, Alice Fournier (Olga Kurylenko) with some potential explosive information. The November Man finds himself targeted by his former protégé, David Mason (Luke Bracey), and a chase through a complex, crowded city ensues. The script called for much of the action to take place in Berlin, where Deveraux and Mason’s cat and mouse game could take place in cosmopolitan epicenter of Germany, but costs for filming there were prohibitive. Producer Sriram Das visited a host of Eastern Europe’s capital cities before visiting Belgrade in 2012.

Like Luc Besson did with Taipei for Lucy, director Roger Donaldson found himself with a rarely utilized location that was a major boon to the film. Perched at the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers, this city of 1.23 million might be lesser known to Americans (save for its importance as a central location of the Kosovo War in 1999), it is an ancient, beguiling metropolis. The city government of Belgrade, as well as Serbia’s, cooperated with the production, opening up key locations throughout as well as providing a top notch crew from the well established local film industry.  “We’ve seen Berlin a lot of times, but we’ve never seen Serbia in a commercial movie. So I was very enthusiastic about shooting it in Serbia,” Donaldson told Variety. “The Serbian people and the Serbian crew, nobody ever, ever complained about anything, they just worked their butts off.” In Andrew Barker’s review of the film for Variety, he wrote that the Serbian location was, “well-scouted and well-shot, with the film’s geographic specificity representing a nice change of pace from the often vague Eastern European settings employed in such films.” While the Serbian crew worked their butts off, even Serbian royalty were employed in the welcoming of cast and crew. When Brosnan arrived in Serbia to begin filming in May of 2013, he was greeted at the airport by the granddaughter of Princess Jelisaveta Karadjordjevic, reported Balkan Inside.

Much of the film was shot outdoors, utilizing the mixed cultural and architectural palette of the city. Production Designer Kevin Kavanaugh said in the production notes that the city’s varied architecture allowed them to use the different character of the buildings, as well as the different colors and the mixture of the old and the new (Belgrade has been razed 44 times in its history), to dress their sets. “Detail is everything even if the audience doesn’t spot it, the actors need to be working in a set that feels authentic,” Kavanaugh said. “We had the city as a huge back lot and it’s an incredibly appealing place to shoot.”

Pierce Brosnan and Olga Kurylenko

Pierce Brosnan and Olga Kurylenko in ‘The November Man.’ Photo Credit: Aleksandar Letic. Courtesy Universal Pictures.

Because The November Man is essentially a chase picture, they shot all over Belgrade, following Deveraux’s movements through markets, cafes, train stations, alleyways, parking lots and restaurants. Some of the city’s most stunning landmarks were opened to the production, including the Serbian Parliament Building, City Hall, The White Palace and the Fort. Cinematographer Romain Lacourbas used the latest anamorphic lenses to soften and bring volume to the images. This gives the digital film an effect very similar to 35mm camera lenses used 30 years ago, which was appropriate for a film that has a Cold War style, with spies and femme fatales playing deadly games in an exotic city.

Olga Kurylenko

Olga Kurylenko is ready to play rough in ‘The November Man.’ Photo Credit: Aleksandar Letic. Courtesy Universal Pictures.

Lacourbas shot some scenes by using ‘tilt and shift’ lenses, which add a dreamlike touch to scenes by creating out of focus areas in the frame. Because the film is so swiftly paced and action packed, there was a lot of steadicam work as well as car and quad bike mounted camera rigs. In one thrilling sequence, Lacourbas had to shoot from the back of a motorbike to get the necessary speed and immediacy needed for a car chase.
 Another complicated, and ultimately rewarding, sequence of shoots was from the perspective of a CIA drone – these were made possible by actual drones flying overhead and tracking the actors through the crowded markets and streets.

The November Man was further improved by the efforts of stunt coordinator Mark Mottram, who worked with Brosnan on three of the Bond films and also served as his stunt double. His core team of four included two additional stunt doubles, a stunt rigger, and a stunt utility bike and car specialist. A few of the more complex sequences required some 30 Serbian and Russian stuntmen joining the British team, specifically for car chases which required real precision driving through the often narrow streets of Belgrade.

Although practical effects ruled, the special effects team were still busy, especially when it came to two huge vehicle explosions and a car crash. One such explosion called for a van exploding thirty feet from the nearest building, where both Brosnan and Luke Bracey would be right there in the midst of the action.

The van was rigged to have two carefully timed detonations, one on each side, with the fan fixed so that no debris flew off and harmed anyone. The explosion was pre-rigged to blow twice. In the film it’s caused by Brosnan’s November Man cutting a fuel line and shooting into the car to set it off, so the power of the blast needed to send the van skyward as well as produce a fireball. The SFX and stunt crew pulled it off, all while the citizens of Belgrade watched on.

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54 World Premieres Highlight 71st Venice International Film Festival Fri, 22 Aug 2014 14:30:01 +0000 The 71st Venice Film Festival officially opens the fall festival season on August 27, followed just two days later by the Telluride Film Festival and, six days after that, the Toronto Film Festival (TIFF). There’s been a bunch of press ... Read More

The 71st Venice Film Festival officially opens the fall festival season on August 27, followed just two days later by the Telluride Film Festival and, six days after that, the Toronto Film Festival (TIFF). There’s been a bunch of press lately over the recent announcement by TIFF’s artistic director, Cameron Bailey, that from now on only world premieres and North American premieres would be allowed to screen during the festival’s all-important first four days. TIFF’s decision is based on the fact that Telluride, and to a smaller extent Venice, has been nabbing Oscar winners and contenders a week before they arrived in Toronto. Last year Venice was the venue for Gravity’s world premiere, while Telluride nabbed 12 Years a Slave, among other major films, all more than a week before they played at TIFF. If you premiere in Telluride, TIFF’s saying that you’ll be moved to the tail end of their festival, when most of the studio players with purchasing power have left.

Venice Film Festival artistic director Alberto Barbera is not engaging in what Variety described as “the cinematic cold war” between Toronto and Telluride. “If there has to be this frenzy to have a world premiere at all costs, meaning that you’ll take a film just so that you can have the world premiere, that’s a game I’m not playing,” Barbera told Variety.  “There are plenty of great movies out there around the world.” Some 39 countries worth of great films are represented in Venice, from Azerbaijan to Taiwan.

Festival intrigue aside, the Venice-Telluride-Toronto festival cycle screens a huge majority of the films that will be competing come awards season, and Venice is showing 54 world premieres alone, after Barbera and his team saw more than 1,500 movies and winnowed them down to 55, with 20 in the main competition for the Golden Lion, awarded to the festival’s top film. Here’s a sneak peak at a few films from that select 20 premiering at the first, and oldest, of the three major festivals in the coming weeks.


Birdman – USA

There’s a lot to be excited about with Birdman, Venice’s opening night film. Co-written and directed by the Mexican master Alejandro González Iñárritu, and starring criminally underused Michael Keaton, Birdman looks a whole lot lighter than Iñárritu’s Babel or 21 Grams. Keaton is Riggan Thomson, a washed up actor who used to play the titular iconic superhero and is now attempting to mount a comeback on Broadway. The cinematographer is Emmanuel Lubezki, one of the best of his generation, and the cast is absurdly top notch, including Emma Stone, Ed Norton, Naomi Watts, Amy Ryan and Zach Galifinakis. It looks loose, wild, and lyrical.


Sivas – Turkey

Sivas is the only first feature competing for the Golden Lion, directed by Kaan Mujdeci who financed the film by opening a bar in Berlin (that should be a movie itself). The film focuses on Aslan, a eleven-year old boy in a unforgiving village in Eastern Turkey who saves an old fighting dog, Sivas, he finds wounded in a ditch. Aslan’s love interest is Ayse, a girl who is being wooed by Osman, a rival and the son of the village head. Meanwhile, a recouped Sivas starts winning fights, drawing unwanted attention to Aslan and his new friend. The story of a boy and his dog is an old one, and in the right hands, it can be a great one, too.

La Rancon de la gloire – France

Director Xavier Beauvois says of his film, “the idea here is not to retrace truthfully the sad epic of the two comrades, or to make a documentary film about an event that, in the end, doesn’t really deserve such attention…but rather to slide, little by little, towards a bittersweet comedy of sorts.” And what sad event is the story loosely based on? As the seventies come to an end, a recently released Flemish crook and his financially enfeebled friend are looking for a way to break free of their grinding poverty, and they think they’ve found it when Charlie Chaplin’s death is announced. Why not steal the fabulously wealthy legend’s corpse and demand a ransom from his family? We want a piece of the action.

99 Homes – USA

Andrew Garfield stars as Dennis Nash, a Florida resident evicted from his home by a gun wielding, venal real estate broker Mike Carver (Michael Shannon). Nash is forced to move his mother and young son into a greasy motel, until an opportunity arises in which he can make some serious money, and possibly get his home back, by working with Carver in a criminal enterprise where banks, the government and hard working families are all marks. Director Ramin Bahrani said in his director’s statement that “the common man around the world can no longer do hard, honest work and expect to thrive against systematic greed and corruption.” With incendiary Michael Shannon as the face of greed and corruption, you can safely assume the common man has his work cut out for him.

Hungry Hearts – Italy

Adapting a book for the screen is never easy. Director Saverio Costanzo took an interesting tack when he adapted Marco Franzoso’s book—he never reread it during the screenwriting process. “That’s how Franzoso’s story accompanied me,” the director said in his statement, “in the search of what has turned into a very personal tale.” The story is about Jude (Adam Driver), and American who meets Mina (Alba Rohrwacher), an Italian, in New York City. They fall in love, get married, and Mina becomes pregnant. When complications arise, however, first with Mina’s insistence that the unborn child is special and must be protected from all the pollution of the outside world, and then, with the child himself (he’s not growing), the couple are plunged into a battle of resentments and suspicions while they desperately search for a solution.


Featured Image: Inspired by the closing scene of The 400 Blows by François Truffaut, the Venice Film Festival poster has been created by Simone Massi

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Agent Knox vs. Eli Thompson:Boardwalk Empire’s Brian Geraghty on Season 4 Finale Thu, 21 Aug 2014 14:30:15 +0000 Spoiler alert. For those of you not caught up with Boardwalk Empire, do not watch the video or read the below.  

In one corner, you’ve got Agent Warren Knox (Brian Geraghty), the young comer at the Bureau of Investigation whose clean shaven ... Read More


Spoiler alert. For those of you not caught up with Boardwalk Empire, do not watch the video or read the below.  

L-R: Agent Warren Knox (Brian Geraghty) vs. Eli Thompson (Shea Wingham). Courtesy HBO

L-R: Agent Warren Knox (Brian Geraghty) vs. Eli Thompson (Shea Wingham). Courtesy HBO

In one corner, you’ve got Agent Warren Knox (Brian Geraghty), the young comer at the Bureau of Investigation whose clean shaven baby face belies a murderer’s malice. In the other corner stands Eli Thompson (Shea Whigham), little brother to Atlantic City’s crime boss Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi), a former police chief, a murderer himself, but also a husband and father of eight with everything to lose. The two men enter the parlor in Thompson’s home, but only one man can leave…

Before we revisit the most brutal fight on television last year, which leads us to Boardwalk Empire’s fifth and final season premiering on Sunday, September 7, let’s take a quick look back. While not the cultural touchstone that HBO’s previous mob series, The Sopranos, became, nor the darling of dark dramas like Breaking Bad was, or the beloved period pace Mad Men is, Boardwalk Empire has slowly, steadily built itself into a terrific series, and has delivered two absolutely thrilling seasons back-to-back. Superbly acted and written, as dark as Breaking Bad and filmed with a similar loving attention to period detail as Mad Men, Empire may not get the press and the buzz, but prohibition era Atlantic City is one hell of a place to spend an hour on a Sunday night.

Last year’s season, the show’s fourth, had a lot to live up to after season three’s explosive arc. Season three introduced us to a new, irresistible force of nature by the name of Gyp Rosetti, played with impassioned lunacy by Bobby Canavale. Everything we’ll learn about Gyp’s unhinged volatility and easily bruised ego are evident in the opening few minutes of season three. When we first meet him, he’s having car trouble as he drives along a deserted stretch of highway between New York and Atlantic City. A Good Samaritan offers to help him and does just that, but an offhand (and harmless) joke he makes is taken to be an insult to Gyp’s intelligence. Gyp beats the man to death with a tire iron. Then he steals his dog.

There were already plenty of outsized personalities on Boardwalk Empire before Gyp came along. Atlantic City boss and protagonist of the show, Nucky Thompson has always been, with a few lapses here and there, the show’s most pragmatic and icy character. His brother and on again/off again lieutenant Eli, is a less controlled (and inarguably less intelligent) version of Nucky, a drinker, a brawler, with a chip on his shoulder and a family to feed. Yet it’s been Boardwalk‘s periphery players that have always burned up the screen. Atlantic City’s black leader Chalky White (Michael K. Williams), Chicago’s very own Al Capone (Stephen Graham), and New York’s contingent of Lucky Luciana (Vincent Piazza), Meyer Lansky (Anatol Yusef) and boss Joe Masseria (Ivo Nandi) are colorful, intelligent and determined gangsters. This is to say nothing of the likes of spooky former federal agent Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon), shrewd mobster-philosophizer Arnold Rothestein (Michael Stulhbarg) and the beloved, maimed, mask-wearing WWII veteran Richard Harrow (Jack Huston). And equal to all of these maniacs, movers and murderers is Gillian Darmody (Gretchen Mol), brothel madame and master manipulator.

Yet perhaps with the exception of Stephen Graham’s Al Capone, Gyp represented the first Boardwalk character who walked off with nearly every scene he was in by the sheer force of his personality and the omnipresent danger that he might take offense to something said (or not said) and kill somebody. So when season three ended in a massive gang war in Atlantic City, with all the above mentioned players involved in some way, it wasn’t surprising that the fuse had been lit by Gyp. He was too intense to live, even for this crew.

So how would season four top that? Certainly not with the arrival of the baby faced, milk fed Federal Agent Warren Knox. As played by Brian Geraghty, Agent Knox tiptoes into season four like a lamb seeking guidance from a pack of wolves. The young agent needs to learn the ropes of Prohibition politics between law enforcement and the criminals they’re nominally there to police, and most importantly, where the law falls on the hierarchy in Atlantic City (spoiler alert; below the criminals).

Initially dismissed as an uninformed weakling by the power players in the Boardwalk universe, Knox turns out to be a character more unsettling, and beguiling, than hot headed Gyp Rosetti. By the end the season, Knox had become one of the most chilling characters in the entire run of the show, a relentless, ruthless true believer out to destroy Nucky Thompson’s criminal enterprise no matter what it takes, no matter who he might have to toss out of a window or shoot in the face. After seizing upon an opportunity to squeeze Eli, the lamb reveals the wolf inside as he turns the younger Thompson against his brother by using Eli’s son as a pawn. In the season four finale, Agent Knox and Eli Thompson have an impromptu meeting at Eli’s house. What happened next was one of the most thrilling moments in television last year.

In our above interview with Agent Knox himself, Brian Geraghty explains how they filmed that explosive finale scene, and how he and Shea Wingham managed to not kill themselves in the process.

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Love & Struggle in the City in Love is Strange Wed, 20 Aug 2014 14:30:26 +0000 Writer/director Ira Sachs and painter Boris Torres were married in New York City in 2011. They joined the many couples who exchanged vows after the state legislature legalized same sex marriage in 2011. Their twin children were born a week ... Read More

Writer/director Ira Sachs and painter Boris Torres were married in New York City in 2011. They joined the many couples who exchanged vows after the state legislature legalized same sex marriage in 2011. Their twin children were born a week after their marriage. It was around this time that Sachs was thinking about his fifth feature film. “I wanted to make a film about love from the very particular perspective of my own age and experience—as someone who’s not either very old or very young, but who could for the first time imagine a long love that becomes more beautiful with time,” he said in the press notes. “I was interested in exploring the different perspectives each of us has at different periods of our lives: as an adolescent, in middle age and in later chapters. I wanted to imagine what my own relationship, my young marriage, might look like in the years down the road.”

Love is Strange is the result of Sachs’ thought experiment about his own marriage, and his relationship with his family, his friends, and the city he has lived in for 25-years. The story focuses on Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina), who finally get married, after four decades together, in a lovely ceremony in lower Manhattan. New York City, however, can give with one hand while taking away with the other. The joy of their marriage quickly gives way to George losing his job teaching music at a Catholic school, where the archdiocese decrees that George has violated the moral code (i.e., he’s married a man). As the primary breadwinner in the relationship (Ben is a painter), the couple can no longer afford their apartment. The city’s remorseless real estate market forces the newlyweds to temporarily live apart until they can find a new, affordable home. George moves in with two gay cops who live downstairs (Cheyenne Jackson and Manny Perez), while Ben heads out to Brooklyn to live with his nephew (Darren Burrows) and his wife (Marisa Tomei), where he has to share a bunk bed with their volatile teenage son Joey (Charlie Tahan).

Sachs, whose made a career of creating intelligent, superbly written films, keeps good company when crafting his stories. He wrote Love is Strange with his co-writer from his excellent 2012 film Keep the Lights On, Mauricio Zacharias. They had begun discussing ideas after Keep the Lights On premiered at Sundance. Through their discussions a few themes emerged, including the seasons of life and how information is passed from one generation to the next. Ben and George’s lives are suddenly, inexorably intertwined with family and friends in ways that are surprising, humbling, and at times, terrifying.

Left to right: Alfred Molina, John Lithgow and Director Ira Sachs Photo by Clay Enos, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Left to right: Alfred Molina, John Lithgow and Director Ira Sachs
Photo by Clay Enos, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Sachs has said that he and Zacharias were influenced by both Japanese postwar cinema and contemporary French realism cinema. “Simple stories about families facing life’s challenges that still manage to reveal things very deeply about who we are.” One of the unique narrative elements of Love is Strange is that the drama isn’t derived from lovers getting to know one another or themselves, but rather facing the challenges of having to rely on other people, which also means opening themselves up in ways they haven’t had to in years.

In a different sent of hands, Ben and George’s experience in Love is Strange could hold a very harsh mirror up to some of the issues plaguing the country in our current moment. As well as touching upon marriage equality, the film includes religious conservatism, discrimination, and income inequality. There’s even a look at the real effects of a social safety net, and the role it plays in actual lives. Yet these issues are background to the film’s real concern—the relationship between its two leads and to their family and friends. “The catalysts of the film are politically charged,” Sachs says, “but the results are human. The film is very much about how people connect to each other, and how they take care of each other.”

Another crucial relationship Sachs explores is the relationship anyone crazy enough to live in New York City has with the city and its relentless demands. “Sachs takes an impeccably balanced approach to the film,” writes Entertainment Weekly’s Joe McGovern. “It’s neither an advertisement for same-sex marriage nor a scold against the Catholic Church…his ironic title refers to all tough relationships, including the one that the characters have with New York City.” So many films and shows set in New York City take the actual heartache of living here and push it aside—why show how difficult it is to find an affordable place to live in the city when you can just have them live in a spacious TriBeCa loft (with professions that would often never allow that to happen outside of a multi-million dollar trust fund) and get on with the story? Yet the frenzied, constantly changing city and it’s astronomical prices are a huge part of anyone’s story who lives here, and Sachs and Zacharias understand that and use it to their advantage. George and Ben must face the grim reality of how nobody in New York (at least in the real New York) can afford the space to house two grown men. When they move in with their neighbors and nephew, respectively, they’re making burdens of themselves after nearly four decades of self sufficiency. Any one who’s been in a similar predicament (and most of us have) know how hard, how dramatic this is. What a great conceit for a film, too.

Left to right: Charlie Tahan as Joey, Darren Burrows as Elliot and John Lithgow as Ben Photo by Jeong Park, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Left to right: Charlie Tahan as Joey, Darren Burrows as Elliot and John Lithgow as Ben
Photo by Jeong Park, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

“Those of us that have families become accustomed to certain structures and routines, and you can’t just bring another element into that family unit without ramifications,” said John Lithgow. “Ben is a very beloved uncle but you plop him down in an apartment that does not have enough room for him, without really knowing when he’s going to go away, eventually it’s going to drive everyone crazy.”

The rich New York tapestry that Sachs and Zacharias wove was inspired by films like Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters as well as Sachs’ own life. Ben and George are inspired by men and women “a generation older than me, who seemed to have a level of education and sophistication and depth and history that I wish I had.” He also drew from his great uncle and his partner, Ted Rust, who were a couple for 45 years in Memphis, Tennessee.

Left to right: John Lithgow as Ben and Charlie Tahan as Joey Photo by Jeong Park, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Left to right: John Lithgow as Ben and Charlie Tahan as Joey
Photo by Jeong Park, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Sachs says that Lithgow’s Ben owes a great deal to Ted Rust, who was a renown sculptor who, at the tender age of 97, shifted his art from classical references to his first contemporary image inspired by a photo of a teenager wearing a backpack. In Love is Strange, Ben decides to paint a teenager holding a skateboard, a piece of art that has a big impact in the story.

Apart from the wedding that starts the film, Sachs and Zacharias script eschews milestones in favor of the everyday rhythms of life. Time leaps forward, life moves forward, Ben and George try to make sense of their new situation while in motion. “I want the audience to be able to discover the characters, and in the process grow close to them,” Sachs said. “And since this film is specifically about the seasons of our lives, I wanted to focus not on the typical melodramatic high points of life and death, but on the consistent flow.”

Love is Strange began filming in New York City in late August of last year, and shot for 28 days. Along with collaborators like Greek cinematographer Christos Voudouris, production designer Amy Williams and costume designer Arjun Bhasin, Sachs was able to create a film about how strange all love really is—our commitment to each other, to our families and friends, and to a place like New York, it’s all enough to drive you crazy, but would you really want it any other way?

Through thick and thin. Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics.

Through thick and thin. Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics.



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The Cast of The Giver on Bringing the Book to Life on Screen Tue, 19 Aug 2014 14:30:31 +0000 The film adaptation of The Giver has been a long time coming. In fact, it has been in the works for 18 years since Jeff Bridges found out about the Newbery Medal winning book while searching for a part for ... Read More

The film adaptation of The Giver has been a long time coming. In fact, it has been in the works for 18 years since Jeff Bridges found out about the Newbery Medal winning book while searching for a part for his dad, Lloyd Bridges, to play. Unfortunately, his father since passed away in 1998, but Bridges was already engaged with the book and the idea of a movie.

“I said, Oh this is going to be a cinch to get made, over ten million copies sold in twenty-one countries, the money guys are going to go crazy over this,” said Bridges in a press conference at the JW Marriott Essex House. “That did not prove to be true.”

Now his daughters are in their thirties and Jeff Bridges himself has become the Giver. The film stars twenty-five year-old Brenton Thwaites and seventeen year-old Odeya Rush, the second of whom, Bridges notes, would not have been alive had production moved forward years ago.

(L-R back row) Actress Emma Tremblay, actress/musician Taylor Swift, and actors Meryl Streep,(L-R front row), Jeff Bridges and Katie Holmes take part in a press conference. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for The Weinstein Company)

(L-R back row) Actress Emma Tremblay, actress/musician Taylor Swift, and actors Meryl Streep,(L-R front row), Jeff Bridges and Katie Holmes take part in a press conference. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for The Weinstein Company)

“I’m pleased it took this long because we got the right team,” said Bridges.

“I’m glad it didn’t take any longer,” replied author Lois Lowry. “I’m seventy-seven years old.”

Though she jokes about her age, Lowry approved making the book into a movie years ago and has patiently awaited its debut. She has been greatly involved in the production, thanks in part to Bridges’s insistence, though writer Robert Weide remarked that she was “not precious about her words” when the two began discussing a screenplay during the early days of email.

The Wienstein Company finally took on the film, and Bridges and Lowry were at long last able to see their dream movie to fruition. Since then, the filmmakers were set with the challenge of creating the world of Sameness, where the novel takes place. The film was shot in South Africa and director of photography, Ross Emery, utilized black and white to portray the Sameness. In this dulled world, we meet protagonist Jonas who floats along happily in his colorless world.

Sameness is sterile. The buildings are futuristic in the way people thought of the future in the 1950s, inspired by Lowry’s childhood spent on military bases. Everything is clean, inhabitants don’t touch, lying is forbidden and everyone takes their meds. Babies are produced by society’s moms—conceived assumedly through in-virtro rather than the old-fashioned way—then raised in a giant nursery and passed out to designated Elder-approved family units.

The movie itself is a somber warning about a future dystopia where the passions of humanity are muted. Jonas, played by Thwaites, is the Receiver, responsible for receiving the memories of previous societies and using this information to advise the Council of Elders to avoid the mistakes that led to the near downfall of humanity. The Chief Elder, played by Meryl Streep, leads the Council of Elders, the ruling body of the community. Streep is perfectly dispassionate and logical in her quest to keep humanity from the pain of war, death and general suffering that led them to create Sameness.

Meryl Streep is the dispassionate voice of 'reason' to Jeff Bridges passionate Giver. Courtesy The Weinstein Co.

Meryl Streep is the dispassionate voice of ‘reason’ in the Giver. Courtesy The Weinstein Co.

The foil to Streep and her stunted society is the Giver, Jeff Bridges, who remembers what humanity, nature and life were once like. He is responsible for giving Jonas the memories of past generations and to teach him about humanity. He sees life in color and remembers the feelings of both pain and happiness. The film utilizes flashes of color to portray Jonas’s increasing awareness of a world beyond Sameness. He becomes inspired by the thrills of experiencing music, dance and cultures from around the world. In a poignant moment in the film, the audience sees Jonas realize the word “love” has lost its meaning. Jonas attempts to ask his assigned parents if they love him and Mother (Katie Holmes) admonishes him for using an antiquated word the refrain, “Use precise language!”

Katie Holmes is Mother & Alexander Skarsgård Father. Courtesy The Weinstein Co.

Katie Holmes is Mother, Alexander Skarsgård. Courtesy The Weinstein Co.

As he comes to understand how limited life is in a world where the community is drugged and numb, he decides to buck the limits of society and return his memories to everyone. His quest to reacquaint society with the emotions that mark human experience is met with confusion and skepticism from members of his family unit and Chief Elder. Streep’s Chief Elder argues against the reintroduction of pain and sadness, asking why anyone would want to remember such emotions. She fears the violence and hurt that accompanies passion. His goal, to return both grief and joy to the community, is best explained in the words of Taylor Swift, who plays Rosemary, a previous Receiver who experienced too much pain and asks for “release,” a euphemism for death:

“In a world where right now I’m seeing so many of my fans write to me on Instagram and Twitter and letters saying that they’re having such tough time with life because they can’t imagine that we can experience such great pain, such intense loss, such insecurity, the thing I wish I could tell them over and over again is we live for these fleeting moments of happiness. Happiness is not a constant, it’s something that we only experience a glimpse of every once and a while but it’s worth it. And I think that’s what I take away from this movie.”

This message driving the film and the novel is universal, making it easy to understand its lasting appeal. One important difference between film and movie, though, is the character delivering this lesson. In the novel, Jonas is twelve years old. In the film, he is eighteen. This change has been met with a strong reaction by fans of the book, including Bridges and Lowry. When the change was originally announced, both star and author fought this decision.

“That was really a struggle for me to let that one go,” said Bridges.

In the end, both came to terms with the change because they were so confident in the choice to make the movie. Bridges decided to “surf the wave and see” because he couldn’t let go of the film. As a compromise, he reminded himself of the need to yin and yang—though he’s “mostly a yinner.” After his personal pep talk, he felt galvanized to stay with the project, speak his mind as needed, and just ride the wave. Whether fans feel positive about the change or not, this film was a labor of love and a well-intended production close to two decades in the making.

Featured image: The Giver (Jeff Bridges) and the Receiver (Brenton Thwaites) in ‘The Giver.’ Courtesy The Weinstein Co. 

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If I Stay’s Social Media Smarts Mon, 18 Aug 2014 14:30:47 +0000 The rise of Nicholas Sparks was an early sign of the success to come (find me one female between the ages of 12 and 40 who hasn’t seen The Notebook), but when The Fault in Our Stars bombarded the box ... Read More

The rise of Nicholas Sparks was an early sign of the success to come (find me one female between the ages of 12 and 40 who hasn’t seen The Notebook), but when The Fault in Our Stars bombarded the box office, the triumph of the traumatic romance genre was in full throttle mode.

It’s a simple story that we’ve seen take over the screens in the past decade. A best-selling young adult novel turns into a film with an overwhelming fan base. The latest, If I Stay, stars Chlöe Grace Moretz, beloved Hit Girl from the Kickass films, and Jamie Blackley from Snow White and the Huntsmen as her love interest. Not a bad bit of casting to attract tweens and adults alike.

Gayle Forman’s novel centers on Mia Hall (Mortez), a cello prodigy who believed her most difficult life decision would be choosing between pursuing her musical dreams at prestigious Juilliard, or, eschewing classical training for a more youthful track—following her budding rock star boyfriend Adam. A third path presents itself, of course, and it’s a tragic one. A family drive turns fatal and Mia’s caught in a limbo between life and death. With memories flashing before her eyes, she finds herself in an out-of-body state where she must decide whether to wake up and live a difficult life, or, let the curtain close.

If I Stay embraces its heavy conceit, as The Fault in Our Stars did, with fearless sincerity. It also shares with Fault a hugely successful source text, which is currently number one on Amazon’s young adult best-sellers list. In order to capitalize on both the existing fan base and the age of the likely viewer, If I Stay has put together an interactive, exciting social media campaign that involves fans in the film and embraces the sharing/caring ethos of the story.

Here’s a look at a few components of the film’s social media campaign, which is both savvy and sincere.

Interactive Tumblr

Tumblr, the wildly popular platform where teens can plunge into a world of infinite scrolling, I I Stay‘s page is a thorough-going multimedia experience of photos, videos, fan art and more. Just as TFIOS took on the millennial-geared platform to keep fans involved in the film (one popular conceit is to count down how many days and weeks until the premiere with fresh photos and GIFs), If I Stay is following a similar approach, including videos that display Moretz and Blackley’s undeniable connection (and his peculiar dedication to a fresco ceiling). The Tumblr includes the latest tweets from fans, sharing (and one could argue, spreading) their excitement, feelings and thoughts about the book and film. Under the reblog section, there are photos of Mortez, the YA female icon (including her posing with a genuine smile for her fans), GIFs, quotes from Gayle Forman, photo sets created by the film’s followers and more. A fan art contest (more on this in a bit) asked followers to step up on their level of excitement for the film and create their own work.

YouTube channel

The If I Stay Movie Network channel on YouTube includes exclusive videos from a look at Adam’s rockin’ band Willamette Stone to B-Roll footage. The videos allow fans to get some teasers at the “all of the feels” scenes. Moretz and Blackley posted their own funny behind-the-scene videos, whether it was Blackley singing along to “Uptown Girl” or taking a graceful fall while ice skating, they made sure to post their hilarious antics on the channel. Even in a film that will make you ugly cry, the videos showed how much fun and close-knit the cast became.

Fan Art Contest

The Tumblr includes a weekly fan art challenge, where fans can post a piece of art dedicated to the film and it will be posted on the site. Art work includes graphics, photos with the novel and quote art. First-prize winners each week will receive a film poster signed by the cast and a Forman-personalized copy of the novel. One grand prize winner will receive a trip to Hollywood to attend the premiere of the film on August 20.


With over 142,000 Instagram followers, the photo-video based social media account includes pictures of the cast touring the country for the film (and posing with fans) and moments from the film like Moretz’s lip curl, which got 14,000 Likes. On Emoji Day (which does exist, and is on July 17), they included two icons of a girl and boy, the former holding a cello emoji and the latter a guitar, to symbolize Mia and Adam’s musical connection and the universal love for adorably small cartoon icons. The idea was to invite fans to comment on the emojis with their own emojis that describe themselves, which you can bet they did which honed in on the importance of social media in the film’s interactive campaign.

If I Stay’s social media campaign may not be as massive as TFIOS (John Green, the author of The Fault in Our Stars, already had millions of YouTube fans and is one of the most social media savvy writers working) but it has, by all rights, done a fantastic job of stoking anticipation and excitement. There’s got to be an emoji for that.

Featured image: Chlöe Grace Mortez is Mia in ‘If I Stay.’ Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures. 

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Creating the Incredible Time Travel Sequence in Lucy Fri, 15 Aug 2014 14:30:52 +0000 If you have not seen Luc Besson’s Lucy but plan to, do not read this article. Just stop. There are SPOILERS AHEAD.

Towards the end of Luc Besson’s mind-bending Lucy, Scarlett Johansson’s title character, having nearly reached harnessing 100% of her brain capacity, ... Read More

If you have not seen Luc Besson’s Lucy but plan to, do not read this article. Just stop. There are SPOILERS AHEAD.

Towards the end of Luc Besson’s mind-bending Lucy, Scarlett Johansson’s title character, having nearly reached harnessing 100% of her brain capacity, travels back in time. This capability, which was brought on by having a drug she was forced to smuggle, internally, leak inside of her, sends her back eons to the birth of the universe. In essence, you get to watch the creation of the earth in reverse.

What you’re really seeing are exaggerated version of Hubble Space Telescope photography created by Industrial Light & Magic, with references including X-Rays, underwater imagery and MRIs.

The catch for the viewer, however, is we’re not able to follow Lucy on the path of total enlightenment. We are, after all, not on Lucy’s level, and so what we see up on the screen is beautiful, abstract, and beguiling.

Industrial Light & Magic illustrator Cody Gramstad was one of the people who helped bring Besson’s head trip into reality, including his idea for the very last scene. Gramstad walks us through the process of painting the birth of the universe, in reverse.

You have mentioned how a lot of the look of these sequences is based on marine life. Can you explain that a bit? 

It’s a very saturated film, and this sequence came right from Luc’s childhood influences. He was very into marine life and diving, and that kept coming up over and over again in our discussions. So I used a palette built on the light that you would eventually lose as you got deeper and deeper. We start with orange and red and move down to greens and yellows, and as you go deeper and the light would stop refracting through the water, we’d pull out more light based off the spectrum. First you lose orange and red, then the next to go are the greens and yellows, and slowly we pull out different temperatures of color until we get down to the deep dark black and blues.

So tell the idea us of how the idea of Lucy being able to perceive the birth of the universe came about.

One of the early notes we received from Luc was that we would be travelling back through time until the moment of the Big Bang. He had certain key moments he wanted to capture, but the general idea was that the further back Lucy goes the more expansive her knowledge becomes. As the sequence progresses, we start losing sight of what we understand as she starts understanding more, until we end at a point where the audience can really no longer comprehend anything.

Courtesy Industrial Light & Magic.

Courtesy Industrial Light & Magic.

What are those colored dots that appear before the Big Bang supposed to represent? 

For us working on the film on the VFX side, we were interpreting the big bang as less as the moment of origin, but as the moment that Lucy leaves us behind and we as the audience and normal humans can no longer interpret what Lucy’s experiencing. For us, that was the moment right before she disappeared, when everything is consolidated into a single red and green dot of information. The design of the cells that bookend the film is also based on this moment of the film.  They are both consolidations of information, and, because of that we wanted them to visually mirror themselves. After seeing the galaxy, which was the last recognizable part of her journey, we tried to pull out anything that would really give away scale so we could feel like a tiny speck in the broad expanse of the universe. We no longer see planets, and the stars become darker, less focused and more gaseous.


You described to me how Luc wanted us to see Theia, but what is Theia? 

Theia is one theory of the moons’ creation that Luc wanted to use during his time travel sequence. It is the theory that the earth was impacted by another planet called Theia, which released debris into orbit around the earth and ultimately formed the moon.

Theia Impact

How did you create the space imagery?

Much of the space imagery was actually derived visually from an interesting and different approach.  One of our coworkers, Daniel Ferreira, started some of the designs for the nebulas by taking animated fractal shapes (fractal shapes and mathematical sets that create repeating shapes at every scale) and driving particle simulations through those shapes to create abstract nebulous creations that had a hint of “intelligence” to them. The major 3D fractal particle sequences were ultimately omitted from the film, but they were one of the major early influences of the look of the big bang sequence. I believe there will be a demonstration at Siggraph of the use of fractal rendering in film based on those sequences.


So the whole Theia sequence and Big Bang sequence is primarily about stripping colors from the palette?   

Well, the first shot, which was the formation of Pangaea and the impact Theia, were built primarily off a red, orange and violet palette. The next shot, which was leaving the galaxy and nebula clouds, we’re transitioning through the orange, yellow, green part of the color spectrum. As the sequence became more abstract we ended on a dark blue palette. The final shot before we reach the big bang is meant to feel as if we are rising back up to the surface of the water. We follow the streams of light up to the surface, which is represented by the inverted space, where we reach the apex of brightness and color for our final decent to the moment of the Big Bang.

In a word, cool. 

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