The Credits Celebrating Film and Television's Creative Community Tue, 16 Sep 2014 14:31:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Building the Sensational Sets of The Maze Runner Tue, 16 Sep 2014 14:30:51 +0000 One way to jumpstart your film career is to create your own mini-masterpiece, have it blow up on YouTube, and force Hollywood to come knocking. This was the case for animator/director Wes Ball, whose 2012 short film Ruin grabbed the attention of 20th Century Fox. ... Read More

One way to jumpstart your film career is to create your own mini-masterpiece, have it blow up on YouTube, and force Hollywood to come knocking. This was the case for animator/director Wes Ball, whose 2012 short film Ruin grabbed the attention of 20th Century Fox. Ball was called to a meeting where the longtime animator was asked to take the reigns on an adaptation of a popular 2009 sci-fi YA novel. While there, he successfully pitched them to turn Ruin into a feature. Not a bad day’s work.

Ball’s feature film debut is the adaptation of James Dashner’s bestselling 2009 novel The Maze Runner, a work that fuses elements of The Hunger Games, Lord of the Flies and Lost into a sweaty, breathless story of survival. Dashner has said, however, that he wanted to write a story about boys (and one girl) in an impossible Lord of the Flies-like survial situation in which, instead of turning on one another, they became more cooperative, more committed to banding together to survive. Also unlike Flies, the monsters in The Maze Runner are real.

In the film, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) is the latest teenage boy to be deposited in the Glade—an oasis in the center of a vast Maze that is sealed off from the rest of the world by massive concrete walls. Thomas is greeted by a group of boys, all of whom made the same strange trip he did into the Glade, arriving with amnesia on a freight elevator that rose through blackness for what seemed like hours. The reason they’re there is one of the mysteries at the heart of the story, as is the function of the Maze, which reorganizes itself on a nightly basis.

The makeshift society the boys have created in the Glade includes ‘Runners,’ the boys who enter the Maze every day to map each new configuration in an ongoing effort to find a way out. They’re led by Minho (Ki Hong Lee), and their exploration must end before nightfall, as no Runner has ever survived a night in the Maze. This is primarily because of the existence of Grievers, colossal biomechanical spiders that patrol the Maze. After Thomas helps Minho and Alby (Aml Ameen) survive a night in the Maze, and the arrival of Teresa (Kaya Scoldelario), the first girl ever sent to the Glade, the social order begins to shift as the Gladers attempt to reconcile the sudden possibility of a different way of penetrating the Maze and surviving.

“They stood in a vast courtyard several times the size of a football field, surrounded by four enormous walls made of gray stone and covered in sports with thick ivy. The walls had to be hundreds of feet high and formed a perfect square around them, each side split in the exact middle by an opening as tall as the walls themselves that, from what Thomas could see, led to passages and long corridors beyond.”

As the rare animator/director, Ball was uniquely positioned to bring Dashner’s vivid world to life using CGI, but much of the film was shot with practical, handcrafted effects.

Both the Maze and the Glade were created in locations in Louisiana. Production designer Marc Fisichella, who recently was the supervising art director on X-Men: First Class, had to build something that would be both practical to shoot in and around, but also provide enough of a physical reality that, aided by CGI in post, would credibly create the harrowing world of the novel.

To create the Glade, the crew utilized a farm in St. Francisville, Louisiana, an hour or so from Baton Rouge. This lush, remote location was a perfect place to credibly recreate Dashner’s Glade. In fact, perhaps it was too credible. Producer Lee Stollman explained in the press notes that the location was lousy with venomous snakes, mosquitoes, and horseflies. The production needed to hire a snake wrangler who removed dozens of lethal cottonmouths, tree rattles and copperheads during the three weeks of filming on the farm. He caught some 25 venomous snakes, another 35 non-venomous snakes, and one 5-foot rattler. This is to say nothing of the heat and humidity, the mud and the rain.

Another key element of the production design was the Map Room, the crucial location of where all the accrued knowledge built through the dangerous expeditions of the Runners is stored. Fisichella and the crew decided to put the Map Room in a secluded area on the property, not in plain sight of the Glade. They chose a spot deep in the woods of the property which was legitimately wild and overgrown. This allowed them to film the scene amongst shafts of light pouring through the foliage, adding a necessary sense of wild seclusion to the scenes.

“The Map Room’s centerpiece is the map table, which was one of my favorite pieces in the movie,” Fisichella said. “The Runners go into the Maze and come back with their notes and hand-draw maps, which they piece together on this big table, and when they connect them in a certain way, you start to see the layout of the Maze. I thought this would be a great opportunity for the audience to really get the scope of the Maze in 3D form. I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be great if the Gladers actually built a model of the Maze out of sticks and twigs, and that’s how they would document it?’ And we ended up with this really beautiful eight-foot table with a complete creation of the Maze with two and a half inch sticks, and they even did a miniature version of the Glade itself right in the center. It looks very primitive but it’s like a beautiful piece of art, and when you pull back on it, you can see how big this Maze actually is.”

Minho (Ki Hong Lee, left) and Thomas (Dylan O'Brien, right) devise an escape plan.  Ph: Ben Rothstein. Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox

Minho (Ki Hong Lee, left) and Thomas (Dylan O’Brien, right) devise an escape plan.
Ph: Ben Rothstein. Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox

The crew also made use of a former Sam’s Club in Baton Rogue, Louisiana, where they built a 160-foot by 80-foot stage for the Maze. “In the movie, we have a lot of Maze, and of course we’re very limited as to how much we can actually create,” Fisichella said in the press notes. “I came up with a modular concept. We were able to rearrange it and create different corridors and intersections that would satisfy a lot of the blocking in the plot. With different layers of greens and vines and other elements, we were able to change the look of it enough so we could sell it as different parts of the Maze.”

Fisichella and his team built the Maze walls sixteen feet tall to allow room for lighting above. Visual effects then extended those walls to a hundred feet in post. One of the art department’s biggest engineering tasks was creating a set of practical gates for the Maze. “The doors themselves were each 20 feet deep and 20 feet tall, with a 20 foot opening,” Fisichella said. “They were mechanical, so they actually opened and closed on cue and we could have the actors running through them, which makes the film more dynamic than shooting it on blue screen.” The gates weighed seven thousands pounds each, and the doors were moved by the set’s visual effects crew. “It was a challenging installation, to say the least, since we did it out in a field far from our home base,” he adds.

One departure that Ball took from the story was to make the living quarters in the Glade the creation of the Gladers, rather than structures that were mysteriously present when the first boy arrived. Fisichella was determined to make each Glader’s hut look authentically built and, furthermore, different from each other. “The last thing I wanted was for each one to look like they were designed and conceived by one person. I wanted each one to have a personal touch, so we had different crews building all the different huts.”

All this work was done to ensure that audiences would get blissfully lost in the Maze, and want to return again when the second of Dashner’s books is adapted for the screen.


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Working Through Birdman’s Brilliant Contradictions Mon, 15 Sep 2014 14:30:16 +0000 Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Birdman, out October 17th, marks his first formal foray into the comedy world, but this film only strengthens his reputation for touching, intricately woven narratives. A little too intricate, perhaps, as Iñárritu’s focus on contradiction, validation, and ... Read More

Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Birdman, out October 17th, marks his first formal foray into the comedy world, but this film only strengthens his reputation for touching, intricately woven narratives. A little too intricate, perhaps, as Iñárritu’s focus on contradiction, validation, and all things meta blend into a swirling mass of crises for both viewers and characters alike. But worry not – Iñárritu has a plan, and Birdman proves to be a film that brings an audience closer to the story than they might expect.

The plot of Birdman centers around Riggan Thomson, a.k.a. Birdman (played by Michael Keaton), a former cinema superhero with a dream: heading an ambitious Broadway play in order to validate himself as much more than a washed-up Hollywood icon. After a freak accident that leaves his leading man down for the count and his last chance at success nearly in shambles, he must balance his quest for relevance with the inevitability of its demise.

“I was interested in exploring the battles with the ego,” says Iñárritu in the press notes, “the idea that no matter how successful you are, whether in money or recognition, it’s always an illusion. It’s temporary. When you are chasing the things you think you want and empower the people to validate you, when you finally get them, you soon find an impermanence in that joy.”

This illusion carries its way through the entirety of Birdman, where even the film’s anchor and primary setting – Broadway’s esteemed St. James Theater – plays an essential role as both character and contradiction. The theater, rough around the edges but majestic in its legacy, became a perfect representation for Riggan’s mental state – a once limelight soaked place that is past its prime but still big on ideals. And that’s just the thing – the entire film serves as a juggling act between the real and imagined to the point where they become intertwined.

Michael Keaton as "Riggan," Naomi Watts as "Lesely" and Zach Galifianakis as "Jake" in BIRDMAN. Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures. Copyright © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox

Michael Keaton as “Riggan,” Naomi Watts as “Lesely” and Zach Galifianakis as “Jake” in BIRDMAN. Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures. Copyright © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox

On the surface, there’s a pleasant irony as a viewer in how Michael Keaton plays a dejected yet hopeful former silver screen superhero. The obvious connection between Riggan Thomson’s former reign as Birdman and Keaton’s own portrayal of Batman in Tim Burton’s revival of the franchise is rich. Thomson the character seeks a return to legitimacy as Keaton the actor achieves just that before your eyes in Iñárritu’s film. “I think the heart of the character is his contradictions,” Keaton said in the press notes. “He feels like a comet one moment and two seconds later, completely deflated.” This violent game of tug-and-war, whether between high and low or fact and fiction, sets the stage for just how many layers this film can pile on top of itself. And things only take a turn for the meta as an increasing number of parallels are able to be drawn from just a quick glance.

As mentioned beforehand, both Broadway and Riggan have some steep competition – with the continual rise of Hollywood as the paramount of modern entertainment, neither stands center stage and must rely on legacy to maintain validity rather than admiration or attention alone. To conquer his battle for relevancy, Riggan chooses Raymond Carver’s infamous What We Talk About When We Talk About Love to revive his career. This iconic play’s theme of man’s search for love and acceptance was the inspiration for Iñárritu’s decision to choose this play for Birdman because it was “actually a very bad idea.” Riggan plummets further down the rabbit hole by projecting his struggles onto his character in the play – he’s becoming the legacy he seeks to attain in a manner completely off base from his intentions, all the while being played by Michael Keaton, an actor who was on top of his profession and who is now reminding audiences of what they loved about him some twenty years ago in a performance that is earning rave reviews.

The cinematography, by that master, Emmanuel Lubezki, also seems to tease out all of Riggan’s seething ambition and insecurities by feeling as if it’s an unending, unflinching single take, never allowing Riggan, let alone the actor playing him, a cut-away to gather himself. This single, uncut shot, à la Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, is actually an illusion, but a brilliant one. Because these takes last a lifetime (or so you’d think) and they’re free from any discernable cuts or edits that could allow for error, much less a pause, it’s very much like live theater – for Keaton as well as Riggan, this challenge fights against the norm of the multiple takes that most Hollywood actors are allotted while also serving as the precise opposite of this idealized production Riggan is attempting to recreate – all errors are bared for the actor and character. The film itself combines pressures of the theater and modern film, allowing for a new interactivity between the actors and the sets they inhabit.

Although the film’s not actually one long single shot, it was still designed as if it was. Rehearsals required blueprints for the sets, and production designer Kevin Thompson remarks how “…the notes that came out of those rehearsals defined the actual size and shape of the set,” meaning the St. James Theater actually morphed throughout production beyond accommodation for camera moves but also to reflect the inner workings of Riggan’s mind (Birdman was filmed sequentially according to the film’s plot).

And with this style of filmmaking, where all must face countless points of no return, the characters, actors, and even Iñárritu cannot quite obtain the usual Hollywood polish. Like theater, there’s no perfection, no ideal – so they strive to recreate this through theater. And it’s real. In life, “[w]e don’t cut to another reality,” Iñárritu explains. With innovative narratives like Birdman’s, we’re trapped in this film’s continuity as we the viewers attempt to reach our own best visions of ourselves, but, like life and theater alike, we can never truly uphold this vision. The validation that serves as the driving force for Riggan in the film becomes little more than grasping at air, with Riggan learning that this illusion may be the only “real” part of his grand endeavor.

As a result of this web of blind desires, Birdman has no problem with ensnaring itself (and you, too) in its metaphysical trap. The film, effortlessly self-aware and stacked with layers upon contrasting layers, creates a contradictory world in which a film attempts to capture (through theater, no less) this fleeting moment of a personal vision realized. However, with a narrative that stops for no one, even the film cannot combat time’s flow, and life somehow continues onward no matter how we choose to delude ourselves, mask on or off.

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The Drop Director Michaël R. Roskam on Filming the Brooklyn Way Fri, 12 Sep 2014 14:30:35 +0000 How did a Belgian director, most well known for his fantastic, Oscar-nominated foreign language film Bullhead, about a young cattle farmer’s deal with a notorious beef trader, end up filming one of the best New York crime thrillers in recent years ... Read More

How did a Belgian director, most well known for his fantastic, Oscar-nominated foreign language film Bullhead, about a young cattle farmer’s deal with a notorious beef trader, end up filming one of the best New York crime thrillers in recent years with a predominately international cast and crew? Michaël R. Roskam’s The Drop is based on crime novelist Dennis Lehane’s short story “Animal Rescue,” adapted by Lehane himself for his first feature film script. The Drop’s premise is simple, yet because it’s a noir that simplicity belies complexities (really, duplicities) that line the interior of the narrative. The story centers on reticent, doleful Bob (the British Tom Hardy), a bartender at Cousin Marv’s in Brooklyn (the specific neighborhood is never mentioned, the actual locations were mainly Marine Park, Fort Greene and Windsor Terrace) who finds an abandoned, injured pit bull puppy in the trash. Bob’s decision to pull the pup out of the trash introduces him to Nadia (the Swedish actress Noomi Rapace) and, eventually, her completely unstable, menacing ex-boyfriend Eric Deeds (the Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts).

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

Tom Hardy as “Bob” and Matthias Schoenaerts as “Eric Deeds” in THE DROP.
Photo by Barry Wetcher. Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Meanwhile, Bob’s job at Cousin Marv’s means he works for his actual cousin Marv (the late, great, and very American James Gandolfini), and when the bar is held up, it sets into motion a series of twisting, increasingly dangerous events that threaten the lives of our protagonists, and, it should be noted, the impossibly adorable puppy, Rocco. Throughout the plot twists and fantastic performances, the still un-gentrified neighborhoods in Brooklyn that Roskam and his crew filmed in remain a beautifully well-worn, believable milieu for the action to unfold.

We spoke to The Drop’s Michaël R. Roskam about researching Brooklyn (from bar to bar to bar), working with writer Dennis Lehane and what the true heart of film noir really is.

So, what brought you to Brooklyn? 

It was just the script. It’s always where it starts, and it was so well written. Plus the story itself had the elements that I always like to have in my work. I’m a writer myself, and I was looking forward to see if I could direct someone else’s material, and for this one I felt like, I wish I’d written it myself.

What about it struck you most?

Thematically, it’s this search for innocence, which Dennis wrote in a very complex way. I loved it. Looking for innocence is something we all do, it’s this thing that’s really deep down that drives us to deal with life, and we try keep as much of that innocence that was given to us the moment we were born as we can. Although according to Christianity we are born with sin, we will never be more innocent then the moment we are born. I’m really intrigued by that concept. So the story is driven by this basic concept, but then there are these complex, noir layers.

Tell me about the noir elements in the film. It’s a very unique Brooklyn noir, with these blue collar guys living in a neighborhood now run by international mobsters…

Well, the origin of noir is really about the way people in the lower classes react to government, react to the law and react to crime. Noir is always about the lower social classes and the noir genre has always been critical of the way they’re treated. Noir’s had this purpose to portray the lives of the people of the streets, which was a life of crime. Many people think if you make a film noir it is, by its’ nature, about crime. No. Noir is, by its’ nature, about people in the cities who have to deal with the consequences of the actions of the law. The law was there to protect a certain kind of people, but it never protects the poor from crime. So noir is the other side of the coin, it’s the opposite of the law. That’s also something that I’m intrigued by is how the absence of law easily becomes crime.

James Gandolfini as Cousin Marv and Tom Hardy as Bob in 'The Drop.' Courtesy Fox Searchlight.

James Gandolfini as Cousin Marv and Tom Hardy as Bob in ‘The Drop.’ Courtesy Fox Searchlight.

You really do get the sense that there is very little Bob or Cousin Marv could do in their situation—the cops will not save them from the Chechens.

Yes, for people in this position, you have to deal with the forces that are surrounding you, and the forces in these guys lives are coming from the criminal side of things.

What was it like working with Dennis Lehane on his first feature script? 

Well it was based on his short story, which was really a failed novel he was never able to write because it never really came out. Producer Mike Larocca discovered the story and asked Dennis if he could make a film out of it. I know Dennis had been writing for The Wire and Boardwalk Empire, so I think he was ready for the next step and write his own feature script, and he did and it was so well written. He was also really cool to work with, he told em to do what I needed to with the script, and to call him if I needed anything. He was very collaborative. 


Tell me about filming in Brooklyn, especially in these parts of Brooklyn that have still yet to be gentrified. 

Well the location was a bar, so our location scouting became almost an anthropological expedition. I visited so many bars. We had a great crew and location scouts, and our location manager Keith Adams was amazing. He took me everywhere, and we went to look for bars all day long. The bars gave me a very good, quick impression on the people who live in, and around, the bars. It’s my job to be quick at it and to be a sponge and take iin as much as yI can, to filter it and crystalize it into a world I wanted to show.

You used a few Brooklyn neighborhoods to create the world of The Drop.

It’s bigger than Paris! It’s huge! Brooklyn is also so cities. Brooklyn has a lot of faces, and some are very particular. We recognize them immediately, like a beauty mark on the face. I didn’t  want to go too much into the clichéd Brooklyn, so I tried to the authenticity of Brooklyn to be right. Everything was shot on location, everything, we only reconstructed some interiors, but the bar is a mix of three bars.

Cousin Marv's Bar was actually a composite of three Brooklyn bars, with the exterior taken from 'The Park Tavern.' Courtesy Fox Searchlight.

Cousin Marv’s Bar was actually a composite of three Brooklyn bars, with the exterior taken from ‘The Park Tavern.’ Courtesy Fox Searchlight.

Cousin Marv’s bar feels like a very real, very beloved dive bar where you don’t ask too many questions about what might else be going on.

We found this empty bar, then we built the bar based on a cross breed of three bars that we really loved but we couldn’t get because we couldn’t put these bars out of business out of six weeks. Think about that—we offered to pay them, and for their bar to be in a movie, but they couldn’t do it because they rely on their people, and they thought that if they’re closed for six weeks they’d lose their people. They were that loyal. So rather than have someone shoot a film in their bar and get paid for it, they’d rather keep their bar open so they wouldn’t lose their people and stay loyal to their people. All the bars we tried to pick, not one would close down for six weeks. Not one of them, so that’s why we had to rebuild the bar. Our production designer, Thérése DePrez, she knew exactly how this world looks and did an amazing job.

The Park Tavern 2

Where did you find your Brooklyn inspiration? Was it another film? Books?  

What we found was, these blue-collar neighborhoods, everything is very worn but it’s also very neat. The houses, the cars the shoes, they keep things clean and neat. The places we filmed were not where everything is dirty and broken, they’re worn, but they’re neat. That’s what I tried to show, but also I wanted to be faithful to a tradition of showing Brooklyn the way the artist George Bellows used to paint it, that colorful Brooklyn street life. He had a show at the Met just as we were starting pre-production, and my DP Nicolas Karakatsanis told me we should look at that, and the colors he used in his paintings we still find those colors in Brooklyn today; cobalt blues, ochre yellows, burgundy reds, people are still using those colors, street after street we found those colors, and those colors already existed in early 19th century, so that’s what we did too.




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As TIFF Draws to a Close, Films & Performances Drawing Heat Thu, 11 Sep 2014 14:30:16 +0000 As the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) moves into its final weekend, and with Cannes, Venice and Telluride all in our rear view mirror, there’s some considerable heat around specific projects and performances. And while the New York Film Festival ... Read More

As the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) moves into its final weekend, and with Cannes, Venice and Telluride all in our rear view mirror, there’s some considerable heat around specific projects and performances. And while the New York Film Festival will see a few more major premieres (David Fincher’s Gone Girl and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice), here are a few of the most talked about performances and films leading into fall and the release of most of the Oscar hopefuls.


Reese Witherspoon in front of Smith Rock, in Oregon. Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Reese Witherspoon in ‘Wild,’ a film she also produced. Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Did you know that for the past 13-years, since 2001, either the Best Actor or Best Actress Oscar has gone to a performer playing a real person? We didn’t either (thanks Vulture), and this is good news for a couple of marquee performances that are being spoken about coming out of TIFF.

The Women

Felicity Jones and Reese Witherspoon are two such performers getting some Oscar buzz for their work portraying real women. Jones plays Jane Hawking, the first wife of world renown physicist Stephen Hawking, in The Theory of Everything. While Eddie Redmayne’s getting the lion’s share of the buzz for playing Hawking, Jones is enjoying very strong reviews for her work playing his “steely, vulnerable” wife in a performance Entertainment Weekly’s Nicole Sperling called “completely heartbreaking.” Or as Vulture put it; “Near the end of the film, when Redmayne can move little but his eyes, Jones and her soul-stirring peepers match him beat for beat.”

Reese Witherspoon can share the credit for bringing not one but two hotly anticipated films to festivals this year. The first film is Wild, in which Witherspoon plays Cheryl Strayed, author of the eponymous memoir about her journey (both physical and psychological) hiking the 1,100-mile long Pacific Crest Trail. Extra kudos to Witherspoon who co-produced the film after securing the rights before the book was even published. The second film that benefited greatly from Witherspoon’s involvement is Gone Girl, which opens the New York Film Festival. As she did with Strayed’s “Wild,” Witherspoon’s production company sagely snapped up Gillian Flynn’s 2012 thriller, the hottest book of that summer by far, for one of the most eagerly anticipated films of the year.

And here comes Jennifer Aniston, receiving some of the best film reviews of her career for her performance in Cake. Aniston stars as Claire, a woman “pieced together with steel pins” as the Los Angeles Times writes, whose every move brings her pain. She also has deep facial scars whose provenance is unknown. In the film’s opening moments we meet Claire in a chronic pain support group making caustic comments about the recent suicide of a former group member (Anna Kendrick). Aniston received a standing ovation at the Elgin Theater in Toronto when the film premiered this Monday. The excitement isn’t merely for playing someone very un-Aniston like (unwashed hair, facial scars), but by providing much more than cosmetic change in what Deadline called a potentially “career-changing film.” Aniston’s already getting the inevitable comparisons to two transformative Oscar-winning performances; Charlize Theron’s becoming a Monster and Matthew McConaughey’s physically daunting, sterling turn in last year’s Dallas Buyers Club.

The Men

John du Pont (Steve Carell) and Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum). Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics.

John du Pont (Steve Carell) and Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum). Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics.

Eddie Redmayne’s performance as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything has generated all sorts of definitive statements about his Oscar chances (they appear to be very good). Redmayne has said that he’s avoiding the Oscar talk, and is instead focusing on the fact that Hawking and his ex wife Jane have approved of the film enough to have lent both Stephen Hawking’s computerized voice as well as the medal he received from the queen. This must feel good for the young actor, who spent six months researching the role, a deep dive that included working with a choreographer to recreate Hawkings gradual muscular degeneration over time.

Foxcatcher has been one of the most buzzed about films this festival season since it bowed in Cannes, and its reception in Toronto is more of the same. Not only is it considered a very solid contender for a Best Picture nominee, reviewers and prognosticators alike think the chances are good it could generate threeacting noms for its three leads. Steve Carrell as John du Pont, the heir to the Du Pont chemical fortune and the paranoid, eventual homicidal dark heart of the film, Mark Ruffalo as Olympic wrestler and coach Dave Schultz, and Channing Tatum as Mark Schultz, Dave’s younger brother who’s swept up in du Pont’s world, bringing his beloved older brother with him. There is some speculation as to whether Carrell should end up in Best Actor category rather than Best Supporting. Tatum is the film’s leading man, more or less, but Carrell’s transformation, not just physically (his altered voice and, more jarringly, his prosthetic nose) as well as psychologically (playing the paranoid, unsettling heir) is the more obvious departure and “seems” more leading man-like. Regardless, don’t be surprised if all three are nominated.

Benedict Cumberbatch is riding a wave of very favorable reviews after The Imitation Game premiered at Telluride, and that hasn’t dimmed at TIFF. After last year’s The Fifth Estate didn’t garner Cumberbatch the Best Actor nom a lot of people thought was in the cards just from hearing he was going to play Julian Assange, this year’s response to his performance in the juicy role of Alan Turing should be a course correction. Playing a complicated, prickly (and gay) man who, among many other accomplishments, helped the Allies win World War II thanks to his interest, and eventual mastery, of computerized cryptoanalysis, Cumberbatch looks to be a very credible contender for an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. It was Turing’s sexuality, not his crucial role in the allied victory, that ultimately concerned the United Kingdom’s power structure after the war, a cruel and blasphemous reaction if ever there was one.

If you’ve noticed, all the above men play real people, and although Michael Keaton‘s playing a fictional character, the similarities between his character in Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Birdman and Michael Keaton are striking, and only add to the joy in watching Keaton’s career re-defining role playing a washed up actor gunning for a career re-defining role. Keaton is Riggan Thomson, a washed up actor who was most famous for playing a superhero whose is making a late dash to reclaim his glory by producing and starring in a Broadway play (an adaptation of a Raymond Carver story, no less). It’s all very meta, but also, according to the rave reviews Keaton and the film have gotten, it’s all very delicious, too.

And finally, let’s mention the considerable heat surrounding Chris Rock’s third directorial effort, Top Five, which created an intense bidding war that Paramount eventually won. Reviews say the film is Rock at his absolute best (and that’s saying something) in a film that sounds like his best film effort yet.

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Drawing Katniss, Magneto & More: Costume Illustrator Phillip Boutte Jr. Wed, 10 Sep 2014 14:30:20 +0000 Phillip Boutte Jr. has been involved in film since he was three years old, when he began acting. He acted until he was around 16-years old, when he was growing tired of the roles he was being offered. “I ... Read More


Phillip Boutte Jr. has been involved in film since he was three years old, when he began acting. He acted until he was around 16-years old, when he was growing tired of the roles he was being offered. “I didn’t like the way they were portraying young black men on TV,” he said, “every audition I was going on was for ‘Wiseass Kid number five,’ so I had an identity crisis about what I wanted to do, but the one thing I always loved doing is drawing.” Boutte Jr. thought that, perhaps if he pursued his passion for drawing, he might be able to “creatively change this thing around.”

He went to Cal State Long Beach and majored in illustration and minored in film. There he had a professor named Robin Richesson who introduced him to costume illustration, storyboarding and, not to point too fine a point on it, his future. “She’s a dual union member, in the local 800 (the art director guild) and the 892 (the costume designer guild), and we always knew that during summer break Robin was working on something cool.” That “something cool” included Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds and the first Iron Man.

Boutte Jr. graduated college in spring of 2006 and went to Comic-Con that summer. “I went every year, but this year I was looking for a job,” he said.  He and his friends noticed on the program schedule that the costume designers guild was there and having a panel. When Boutte and his friends attended the autograph session, one of his friends’ portfolios (which, of course, they brought with them) caught the eye of Isis Mussenden, costume designer on the Narnia triology. “She hired my friend Oksana Ndevniaya to go to Prague the next week, for eight months, to do The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, and we’re like, ‘Oh my god this is an actual, real job!”

Pencil sketch designs for Viola Davis's character Amma in 'Beautiful Creatures.' Courtesy Phillip Boutte Jr.

Pencil sketch designs for Viola Davis’s character Amma in ‘Beautiful Creatures.’ Courtesy Phillip Boutte Jr.

Boutte Jr. wasted no time after that. He joined the costume guild, took out a loan with his credit union, and by January of 2007 got himself hired to work on The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. “I worked on that movie for six months, and basically got a costume and illustration 101 class in that job.”

It was on Mummy that Boutte Jr. got work with the costume designer Sanja Hays. “She became my work mother in terms of showing me the ropes and taught me what was expected of me illustration wise. I was very green, I was primarily working by hand, then scanning in my drawings, then doing a digital painting. That was the start.”

It was on J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek that he began to find his style, working closely with costume designer Michael Kaplan (Fight Club, Se7en). “I think I really started to get my legs there, specifically working on young Spock. Some of those illustrations challenged me to step outside of my comfort zone and draw things I’d never thought of drawing before, of translating things and how to portray different textures and fabrics. Drawing to show the difference between stretched nylon and wool and chiffon— I felt really, really challenged.”

Young Spock. Illustrated by Phillip Boutte Jr., designed by Michael Kaplan.

Young Spock. Illustrated by Phillip Boutte Jr., designed by Michael Kaplan.

Part of Boutte Jr.’s challenge was staying true to the classic appeal of the Star Trek look (Nehru collars, monochromatic colors for specific members of the crew), while also crafting something that’s new and edgier. “Almost every costume had to have that classic 60s aesthetic, and you just build from there. Whatever the costume designer throws at you, and it can be anything from your main actors to your background characters, it’s my job to illustrate it and try and translate the thought process of my costume designer.”

Spock's motorcycle outfit. Illustrated by Phillip Boutte Jr., designed by Michael Kaplan.

Spock’s motorcycle outfit. Illustrated by Phillip Boutte Jr., designed by Michael Kaplan.

Boutte Jr. worked on Christopher Nolan’s 2010 dreams-within-a-dream mind blower Inception, another seminal experience for the young illustrator. “That was with Jeffrey Kurland, and he’s a designer who likes to design everything, right down to the socks, ties and shirts, so there’s a lot of detail work in that movie. For a person who’s not paying attention it would go totally unnoticed, a viewer will think, ‘Oh, that’s just an expensive suit,’ but Jeffrey designed all that stuff, including the hanker chiefs, buttons, zippers…every little detail of the garment is picked and designed.

Illustration for Cillian Murphy's character, Robert Fischer by Phillip Boutte Jr. Design by Jeffrey Kurland.

Illustration for Cillian Murphy’s character, Robert Fischer by Phillip Boutte Jr. Design by Jeffrey Kurland.

Working with Kurland on Inception vastly improved Boutte Jr.’s drawing style thanks to both Kurland’s attention to detail and the fact that he’s also an illustrator himself. “He sits and illustrates all day, and he feeds you stuff, shows you designs, give you swatches, so you have a good base to start with because he knows exactly what he’s thinking, and it’s easy to know what he’s thinking because he shows it to you.”

Another big learning curve for Boutte Jr. was to see how a costume is constructed, piece-by-piece, and how the way a certain actor is built and the way his character moves needs to be factored in. “When you actually construct a jacket, there’s so many choices to be made, right down to stitches, does it button or zipper, if so where does it button, where’s the zipper, etcetera? You’re not used to thinking in these terms as an illustrator, you just draw it, but at this level you need to know everything about the costume and the person wearing it. This guy slouches so the seams need to be here so it makes it look like he’s standing up straight, etc., but it makes you more detailed at your job and more professional.“

Boutte Jr.’s favorite design in Inception was for Marion Cotillard’s character Mal, who was Leonardo DiCaprio’s dead wife and haunted him, and the story, throughout. “Her evening dress was my favorite. It’s complicated in terms of the lace work, and it was one of the first times I looked at one of my illustrations and felt it had that costume illustration look. I had to fight through how it was going be constructed, it was so tight I don’t think she could sit down in it, they had a leaning board so she could lean and rest in between takes. In the beginning, she’s standing next to a chair, but you never see her sit down in that dress because she couldn’t, so it cuts away then back, and she’s sitting.” Everything Marion Cotillard wears in Inception was drawn and made.

Illustration of evening dress worn by Marion Cotillard's character Mal by Phillip Boute Jr. Design by Jeffrey Kurland.

Illustration of evening dress worn by Marion Cotillard’s character Mal by Phillip Boute Jr. Design by Jeffrey Kurland.

For someone who grew up reading comic books, Boutte Jr.’s work on Man of Steel, The Wolverine and X-Men: Days of Future Past has had a special place in his heart. On Man of Steel he transitioned his style to look more digital and photo realistic. Working with James Acheson and Michael Wilkinson, Boutte Jr. saw his skill set advanced into the realm of doing nearly everything digitally.

Digital illustration of Ayelet Zurer's character Lara by Phillip Boutte Jr. Designed by James Acheson and Michael Wilkinson.

Digital illustration of Ayelet Zurer’s character Lara by Phillip Boutte Jr. Designed by James Acheson and Michael Wilkinson.

“I started out by doing traditional stuff, a pencil sketch with water color, then it went to just a pencil sketch, scanning that and then digitally painting it, then digitally scanning fabrics, then from there it went to adding photo references, and then from there it went to photo real, which is a combination of photos and painting. Now almost everything is digital, and on Man of Steel I learned how to digitally sculpt in the computer. I can digitally sculpt something and hand it to a fabricator that can then be grown on a 3D printer and put on an actor. Say you got Tom Cruise—you scan him, then give that scan to me. Now I’m no longer guessing, I’m digitally sculpting directly onto Tom Cruise’s body, pieces that will go right onto his costume in his exact proportion.”

Digital illustration for Halle Berry's character Storm by Phillip Boute Jr. Design by Louise Mingenbach.

Digital illustration for Halle Berry’s character Storm by Phillip Boutte Jr. Design by Louise Mingenbach.

On X-Men: Days of Future Past, Boutte Jr. was digitally illustrating a slew of the main characters, including Magneto, Dr. Xavier, Beast, Storm and Iceman. Newer characters, like Blink and Bishop, were also under his purview. “I went from coming in with pencils, paper, ink and brushes to coming in with a computer, a tablet, an extra screen, and a printer.” As his style and his skill set deepen, Boutte Jr. can count on more work coming his way, but not necessarily more understanding about what he does from even those closest to him. “Even with family members, I can tell them I’m working on X-Men: Days of Future Past, and explain everything to them, and then I’ll look on Facebook and my uncle will give me a shot out for designing the costumes on X-men, not illustrating them. Nobody really gets it [Laughs].”

Whether or not his family can correctly say what it is he actually does, you can see more of his work in upcoming films like The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1. 

Illustration of Jennifer Lawrence's character Katniss Everdeen by Phillip Boutte Jr. Designed by Trish Summerville.

Illustration of Jennifer Lawrence’s character Katniss Everdeen by Phillip Boutte Jr. Designed by Trish Summerville.



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Native 3D: The Future of Spatial Movie Production Tue, 09 Sep 2014 14:30:17 +0000 What do the 3D epics Guardians of the Galaxy, Godzilla, and Gravity have in common save for being huge hits and starting with the letter ‘G’? None of them were shot in 3D.

If you’re going to make a 3D movie, you can either ... Read More

What do the 3D epics Guardians of the Galaxy, Godzilla, and Gravity have in common save for being huge hits and starting with the letter ‘G’? None of them were shot in 3D.

If you’re going to make a 3D movie, you can either shoot it that way, sometimes referred to as native 3D and the preferred method for filmmakers like James Cameron, or, you can convert your film into 3D during post-production like the above films did. While Cameron is fine with conversions of older films into 3D retroactively (which he did for his own Titanic), he is a big believer in the notion that the only way to make a new film 3D is to shoot it that way. To wit, the BBC quoted him talking about post-production 3D conversion:

My personal philosophy is that post conversion should be used for one thing and one thing only – which is to take library titles that are favorites that are proven, and convert them into 3D – whether it’s Jaws or ET or Indiana Jones, Close Encounters… or Titanic. Unless you have a time machine to go back and shoot it in 3D, you have no other choice. The best alternative is if you want to release a movie in 3D – make it in 3D.

To Not Be 3D

Filmmakers who choose to convert their films into 3D in post-production have a host of good reasons for doing so, many of them financial and some purely technical. Cinemablend, which has a ‘To 3D or not to 3D‘ series, looked at this summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy’s 3D conversion and viewed it favorably. What Cinemablend points out is that just because a film isn’t shot in native 3D doesn’t mean it wasn’t planned all along to be a 3D film. In fact, director James Gunn oversaw the conversion of every shot during post-proudction to make sure it added something more than the dollars of the cost of your ticket.

Christopher Nolan, one of the most ambitious directors out there, shot sections of his Dark Knight trilogy, Inception and his upcoming Interstellar with IMAX cameras. For Interstellar, Nolan went to great expense to use IMAX cameras, to shoot practical sets and real environments instead of relying on too much CGI, and maximize the new technological advancements available for sound mixing, but what he hasn’t sprung for on any of his films is native 3D. When Nolan appeared at this year’s CinemaCon, he told the audience that the reason he didn’t shoot Interstellar in native 3D is because he doesn’t believe it creates the “shared experience” he is going for.

Yet there have been a slew of films shot in native 3D that have created breathtaking experiences for the audience. People still typically cite Avatar as the pinnacle of native 3D filmmaking, five years after it premiered, but there have been more recent native 3D films that have flourished, including this past summer’s Dawn of the Planet of the ApesThere is a reason that more films aren’t shot in native 3D—it’s expensive and time consuming. Even for the film that broke new ground on what can be done on screen, Alfonso Cuaron told Collider last year that he didn’t shoot Gravity in native 3D due to weight of 3D cameras and the robotics they were using to film some of the scenes—it would have been impossible for the crew to shot the film in native 3D.

What it Means to Shoot Native 3D

When you see a film that was shot in 3D, you’re seeing the work of talented camera operators using two cameras to mimic the way your eyes naturally see. To shoot native 3D means the cameraman must operate and focus two cameras. Filmmakers do this because your right and left eyes have a slightly different angle of vision. But the requirements for native 3D filming don’t end there—the angle of inclination and the distance between the cameras must be adjusted constantly or the effect won’t work. Despite Cameron’s distaste for post-production 3D conversion, the 3D conversion technology has improved right along with all the other advancements in filmmaking in the past decade plus, from Dolby Atmos sound to the quality of images digital cameras can capture, yet native 3D filmmaking has remained cumbersome, but that might be changing.

New Spatial Movie Production

The researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute believe that the future of native 3D filmmaking is close at hand, where camera operators will only have to focus one camera, and everything else will follow automatically.  “The second camera adopts the focus setting of the first one, and appropriate algorithms ensure that the cameras adjust to one another in an optimum manner,” said Dr. Siegfried Foessel, head of department for Imaging Systems at the Fraunhofer IIS in a recent press release. Their software prototype allows cameras to capture 25 frames per second and recalibrate themselves automatically once per second. They will be presenting some of their work at the IBC trade fair this Friday in Amsterdam.

Beyond the Two Camera Approach

These researchers, however, aren’t of the mind that two cameras are the appropriate way to capture 3D going forward. Nope, they’re thinking filmmakers of the future will use more like 16. For more complex special effects, the kinds you know the Camerons and Nolans of the world would want, filmmakers will be able to utilize a system the researchers have set up comprising 16 cameras with software that will generate depth maps that use gray tones to calculate how far the object in this pixel is from the viewer. “We can use this depth map to generate any number of views from the 16 camera views – meaning that we have created a virtual camera, similar to movies that are entirely computer-generated,” Foessel said. “That gives us a great deal of freedom; we can produce moving shots without having to move the real cameras at all, for example.”

This sounds like something James Cameron will approve of, and even Christopher Nolan could get behind.

Featured image: A scene from The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, which was shot in native 3D. Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures. 

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Full Immersion: Hollywood Eyes New Storytelling Methods Mon, 08 Sep 2014 14:30:58 +0000 The dreams of a serious virtual reality, the kind of full-tilt total immersion that have been a part of the collective imagination for as long as we’ve had computers, had seemingly come and gone. Despite the fever dream virtual realities ... Read More

The dreams of a serious virtual reality, the kind of full-tilt total immersion that have been a part of the collective imagination for as long as we’ve had computers, had seemingly come and gone. Despite the fever dream virtual realities imagined in films like Tron, The Lawnmower Man, and perhaps most evocatively in Kathryn Bigelow’s barely remembered but quite robust on a fresh viewing, Strange Days, we’ve been left wanting when it comes to virtual reality…until now. The VR scene has had a recent rebirth in the eyes of the consumer, and Hollywood is making sure to be along for the ride.

Oculus VR, the company founded by twenty-one year old Palmer Luckey, is responsible for the newly vested interest in virtual reality.  After raising a considerable sum on Kickstarter ($2.4 million), and over $91 million in additional investments, it’s not a surprise the Oculus Rift has everyone’s interest piqued.  And a recent acquisition by Facebook, for the small sum of $2 billion, will guarantee that even more people will have access to the Rift when it releases sometime next year.

The Oculus Rift is a virtual reality headset equipped with two 1080p screens (one for each eye), and positional head tracking to interpret your movements.  With the addition of a 3D soundscape, it’s easy to lose yourself in whichever world is on the screen.  Originally intended for games, the Rift has also garnered the attention of production studios such as Fox, Warner Bros. and Legendary, which took their efforts to the recent San Diego Comic Con. If you’ve ever wondered what it was like to step into Professor Xavier’s mind while he searches for mutants through Cerebro, or what it felt like to crawl into the cockpit of a Jaeger from Pacific Rim, or, if you’ve got a morbid streak (who doesn’t?) and wanted to get your head cut off by the Headless Horseman himself, your curiosity can be sated by putting your head inside a Rift.

Taking the immersion a step further, the Rift wasn’t the only gadget lending a hand to the experience.  For the Cerebro demo, Fox let attendees sit in a wheelchair modeled after Professor Xavier’s, and moving was as simple as pushing or pulling a joystiq. Johnny Lerner, of Capture Interactive (the creators of the demo), said once the attendee first moved the joystick, they were hooked.

HBO also brought along an interactive experience for Game of Thrones fans (there are a few, it would seem), letting attendees ascend the Wall – the massive 700-feet high ice barrier keeping the wildlings and White Walkers at bay – in a shoddy caged elevator that was played such a crucial part in last season’s epic battle.

Alongside the headset, people were blasted with gusts of cold air while they stood inside a replica of the Wall’s elevator, with a shaky floor included. This type of four dimensional entertainment has gotten a recent boost with the 4DX theater in the United States is getting some pretty rave reviews. The ability to fully immerse oneself in these fictional worlds, long a staple of how we used to assume the future of entertainment would be, now finally seems to be a graspable reality. In fact, there’s technology in development that will allow cameras to film, and capture sound, in three dimensions.

In a post following their acquisition of Oculus VR, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, “This is really a new communication platform. By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences.” Experiences like the Jaeger Pilot demo and the Cerebro demo are not only astonishing ways to experience stories, they are also powerful marketing tools that can drum up enormous amounts of hype and interest for a film before or during it’s release. But why stop there? The Rift can be an incredible learning tool in every field, including filmmaking.

Imagine seeing a scene unfold before your eyes, but having a 360-degree view of the set.  Seeing the director in action, the way the lights are set up, how the production mixer and boom operator capture a group of 8 people properly, and so on and so forth. The art of the special features on DVD’s and Blu-Rays can be given new life by adding experiences that can be interacted with on an entirely new level.

Oculus VR isn’t the only player in the virtual reality game; Samsung, Sony and Google each have their own plans to bring the technology to new mediums and new places. But the real beneficiary here is the audience. Oculus VR is bringing us a new way to learn and a new escape with an incredible sense of immersion. And with Facebook’s help, the Rift can find it’s way in many more of our homes at a much faster rate.

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Ruffalo & Tatum Wrestle With Difficult Roles in Foxcatcher Fri, 05 Sep 2014 14:30:22 +0000 If you are unaware of the tragic true events that lie at the heart of the upcoming film Foxcatcher and want to remain blissfully unaware (good luck) going into the film, read no further. The film follows the story of ... Read More

If you are unaware of the tragic true events that lie at the heart of the upcoming film Foxcatcher and want to remain blissfully unaware (good luck) going into the film, read no further. The film follows the story of the Schultz brothers, Dave (Mark Ruffalo) and Mark (Channing Tatum), two Olympic gold medal-winning wrestlers, and their relationship with the wealthy heir John du Pont (Steve Carell) who built a state-of-the-art wrestling facility on his mother’s vast estate called Foxcatcher. Du Pont invited Mark to move onto the du Pont estate and help form a team to train for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. The younger Schultz brother jumped at the chance, eager to rebuild his career and desperate to win another gold in Seoul in an effort to step out from under Dave’s shadow. The events to follow were surreal and ultimately awful.

Once the Schultz brothers began training as Team Foxcatcher on the du Pont estate (Dave, retired by then, was an ace coach), neither they nor du Pont himself could have anticipated the way their lives would unravel. The attention du Pont paid to Mark, and the gilded, gaudy world he opened up to him, unbalanced the already impressionable wrestler. Both Mark and du Pont were desperately looking for approval and attention, but what neither man had was the confidence that Dave exuded. The story of Foxcatcher follows du Pont’s increasingly erratic and paranoid behavior, Mark’s splintering self-esteem, and Dave paying the ultimate price for their complex, crumbling relationship.

John du Pont (Steve Carell) and Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum). Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics.

John du Pont (Steve Carell) and Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum). Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics.

The amount of research that went into the creation of Foxcatcher was crucial for director Bennett Miller (Capote, Moneyball) to find his way into a story that received national press when the events unfolded in 1996 in suburban Philadelphia. As Mark Harris wrote in his excellent piece on the making of Foxcatcher for Vulture, Miller first got tipped off to the story when an attendee at a DVD signing of his first film (Cruise, 1998) handed him an envelope full of press clippings. The sensational aspects were clear enough—an eccentric heir to a vast chemical fortune living on his mother’s estate gradually becomes unhinged and murders a well respected former Olympian in front of his wife, no less—but Miller was committed to knowing everything he could about the three men at the center of his story and to see the circumstances from each of their perspectives.

This took years and many thousands of miles of travel to interview those closest to the people involved, including Mark Schultz, Dave Schultz’s wife Nancy, fellow wrestlers, friends, the police, people who worked for du Pont and anyone who was involved in any part of the story. Miller also pored through hundreds of hours of video footage of the three men, which he eventually shared with Tatum, Ruffalo and Carell. Miller’s research journey lasted years. “I wanted to learn what hadn’t been known about the story and that takes time,” he’s said in the press notes. “It takes years and it takes interest an care. This is a story with some uncomfortable truths, everyone I spoke with seemed to be guarding some aspect of what happened.”

Nailing an accurate, compelling psychological take on the three principal players was key, and part of this process was making sure the wrestling scenes in the films looked and felt real. This meant not only the physically annihilating task of training for the sport itself, but also the psychology of wrestlers—gladiators in a sport that has been increasingly marginalized and stigmatized over the past few decades, foundering both in prestige and financial backing. “No one has ever shot wrestling this way,” Ruffalo told USA Today.  “Its’ financial struggles, its sense of loyalty, its tradition, the quality of the people involved. Though in the movie there’s a tragic outcome, what is evident is the beauty of the sport, the commitment of the athletes, the quality of the athletes. I do think it’s going to be a great boost for wrestling.”

John Guira, who wrestled for Wisconsin and was one of Dave Schultz’s best friends, was brought on as the film’s wrestling coordinator. Jesse Jantzen, who wrestled at Harvard, worked as the wrestling choreographer.

Although Tatum is a notoriously well built individual (Magic Mike, anyone?), it was Ruffalo would seem like an even better fit for his role—the son of a state wrestling champ and a wrestler himself, who competed in junior high, high school and college. Yet he was being asked to play Dave Schultz at the age of 33 and in incredible physical shape—Ruffalo was 45 during filming. Perhaps even a bigger hurdle playing Dave Schultz was that Ruffalo is right handed, Schultz was left, so the actor was forced to unlearn everything he known about wrestling. According to the press notes, this meant not only unlearning, but then learning again to do everything backwards.

Part of the difficulty in getting those wrestling scenes right was securing the support of the U.S. wrestling community. As Ruffalo said to USA Today, it’s an incredibly close-knit group, and considering the sensational aspects of story it wasn’t clear the community would be eager to support the project. When Ruffalo attended the first big audition for the other wrestlers in the film, with some of the best wrestlers in the country in attendance, he was informed by Dave Schultz’s old friends that he was no their ideal choice to play the part. Bennett told Ruffalo to go suit up. “I was just there to say hello,” Ruffalo said in the press notes, “I thought, Oh, come on, man, don’t do this to me—but I said okay. And I suddenly realized that this was actually kind of an audition for me to these guys, and I better not blow it.” In his singlet, Ruffalo was squared off against an Olympic wrestler. “Dave used to start strong, so I threw one of his signature moves, one of the more showy ones,” Ruffalo said. Tadaaki Happa, a legendary wrestling coach, gave Ruffalo a nod. He’d passed his audition. After that, the wrestling community threw their support behind the project.

While Ruffalo had the difficult task of inhabiting the late Dave Schultz, Tatum had to act in front of the person he was playing. Mark Schultz offered Tatum invaluable information during filming, but this came with the stress of the actor having to “separate Marks’ real life emotions with what my job was to play him in the film.”

Tatum told Variety after Foxcatcher premiered at Cannes that he’s pretty sure he broke his hand while training for the film, and that in one scene, Ruffalo clipped his ear and popped his eardrum. In another scene, one you can watch in the trailers, Mark loses it and smashes his head into a mirror, shattering it. Tatum said that he went too far in the scene, and put his head through the wall on the other side of the prop, missing the stud “by about four inches.” The cut on his head was real. He’s also said he never wants to wrestle again.

There were more than just real life wrestlers helping make Foxcatcher’s mat scenes look legit, there was also Fred Feeney, who has been a wrestling mat official for 25-years and plays an Olympic referee in the film. He was one of 20 people who auditioned for the role, and was chosen because he was the only one who had ref’d freestyle matches. Feeny told Intermat that for the match between Mark Schultz and the Turk (Necmi Gencalp, played by American University All-American Muzaffar Abdurakhmanov), they filmed for twelve hours, and the process was so exacting that an hour was spent just filming Feeny’s feet as he officiated the match. They had a video of the actual match, and worked tirelessly to match the two. 

The Olympians in Foxcatcher are almost exclusively played by well regarded American wrestlers, including University of Pittsburgh national champion Keith Gavin, playing a Bulgarian wrestler, Northwestern national champion, world silver medalist and Olympian Jake Herbert plays Mike Sheets and University of Pennsylvania All-American Yoshi Nakamura plays a Japanese wrestler.

Bennett Miller’s exacting approach to filmmaking has served him well again and again. On films like Capote and Moneyball his attention to detail and his commitment to getting it right, along with his incredible crew and cast, has produced great films. But these are not easy films to make, and it sounds as if Foxcatcher was the toughest yet. If there was one collective reaction to the process shared by Tatum, Ruffalo and Carell in Mark Harris’s Vulture piece, it was that this wasn’t an easy, or even enjoyable, film to make. But it has a very good chance of being a great one to see.

Featured image: Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo play Mark and Dave Schultz in ‘Foxcatcher.’ Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics. 

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Hope Floats: The True Story Behind Dolphin Tale 2 Thu, 04 Sep 2014 14:30:59 +0000 There was almost no reason to expect that there could have been a sequel to Dolphin Tale, considering it was based on a true story and a sequel would invariably have to be fiction. Not that Hollywood is averse to ... Read More

There was almost no reason to expect that there could have been a sequel to Dolphin Tale, considering it was based on a true story and a sequel would invariably have to be fiction. Not that Hollywood is averse to sequels (or prequels, or trilogies, or origin stories, or re-imaginings), but the original Dolphin Tale was a special case.

Dolphin Tale was released in September, 2011, and told the story of Winter, an Atlantic bottlenose dolphin that was already a local celebrity at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA), a non-profit marine animal rescue facility on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Once Dolphin Tale was released, however, Winter’s story resonated with hundreds of thousands of people, and the result had a direct impact on the CMA.

Winter’s story resonated on a lot of levels. First, and most obvious, is humanity’s abiding adoration of dolphins. We love ‘em, can’t get enough of ‘em. The second is people love comeback stories, and Winter’s is a doozy. Third, Dolphin Tale also offered something of an inventor’s tale—people coming together and through ingenuity, skill and compassion creating something to make the world a little bit better.

At three months old, Winter was found stranded in Mosquito Lagoon, near Cape Canaveral, Florida, frail, dehydrated and dying. She’d been caught in a crab trap line that cut off circulation to her tail flukes. Once she was freed, she was transported to CMA for treatment—her chances for survival were grim. Winter was saved, of course (otherwise there’d be no Dolphin Tale) but there was nothing the CMA could do to save her tail—she lost her entire tail fluke and joint, which “fell off like shreds of paper” according to NBC News.

The tail fluke is the engine dolphins use to power themselves through the ocean, and are attached to the joint, called the peduncle, the muscular part of the dolphin. To swim, a dolphin moves its peduncle up and down, allowing the tail flukes to propel it forward. Without the fluke and peduncle, the dolphin can, at best, utilize its entire body to propel itself through the water by moving side-to-side, like a shark. The problem was this swimming style would gradually degrade Winter’s spine. Unless she could swim naturally, her life was still in danger.

The story of Dolphin Tale is in part about Winter’s resilience—as the CMA notes on their website, most dolphins caught in monofilament and crab trap lines don’t make it. Despite losing her tail, Winter’s recovery was astonishing. Thanks to Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics, along with Dr. Mike Walsh, CMA’s marine mammal veterinarian and marine mammal trainers, a prosthetic tail was created and attached to Winter—the first time this had ever been done. Figuring out how to create a prothesis that can not only create enough force to propel a 400-pound dolphin out of the water and 10 feet into the air, as their natural fluke and peduncles do, but that stays on, was a feat of engineering.

What’s more, the technology created to make Winter’s tail might be useful for human amputees. Dolphins have extremely sensitive skin, so a gel sleeve was created to slide over Winter’s stump. NBC News reported that prosthetic specialist Kevin Carroll Carroll, who helped create the gel sleeve, was applicable to people. The sleeve “also soothed a painful prosthesis for Air Force Senior Airman Brian Kolfage, who lost both legs and his right hand in a 2004 mortar attack in Iraq. The sleeve sticks to Winter’s tail with suction the same way a rubber surgical glove grips a human hand.”

With the sleeve in place, the prosthetic was placed on top of it and attached the new fluke to her peduncle. Winter re-learned how to swim like she had before, using the prosthetic as a cue to help her swim in her normal, up-and-down fashion. By doing this, Winter was able to work all the muscles that surround her crucial peduncle, allowing her to then still swim comfortably when the prosthetic is off.

Dolphin Tale the film took creative license, naturally, when bringing Winter’s story to the screen, but the essence of her incredible recovery was left more or less the same. In the film, Winter is found as she was in real life, tangled in a crab trap with no circulation to her fluke. She’s found by a boy named Sawyer (Nathan Gamble), who learns from a marine veterinarian (Harry Connick Jr.) that Winter’s tail will have to be amputated. What’s more, Sawyer learns that although Winter can swim without a tail, the shark-like side-to-side wiggle will gradually destroy her spine and kill her. So, Winter needs a new tail. What needs to be noted is Winter in the film was played by the actual Winter.

The CMA’s educational outreach exploded after the first film. They had been averaging around 78,000 visitors a year, after the film came out that jumped to 750,000. Yates has explained that the movie revolutionized the CMA, allowing them to expand their animal care areas, create new operating rooms, new labs, new kitchens and food prep areas, new pools, including the one that was built during production as a permanent installation for the first film, which enabled them to take in Hope.

Wait, but who’s Hope? Hope is the incredible true story behind the making of the sequel to the incredible true story. Producer Richard Ingber, the man who brought Winter’s story to the attention of Alcon Entertainment, never considered there could be a sequel. “In terms of movies, true stories are usually told and then you go home,” he said in the pess notes.


The cast and crew of Dolphin Tale had gathered for a wrap party back in 2010. “We were all at the wrap party when the aquarium got the call that a baby dolphin was in troubled and needed rescue,” Ingber said. “And there was a possibility that they could bring her to CMA.”

David Yates, the CEO of CMA and an executive producer on Dolphin Tale 2, said that the odds of this all happening at the Dolphin Tale wrap party were incredible enough, but the similarities between the two rescues were staggering. “They’re both Atlantic bottlenose dolphins; they’re both females; they were both about the same age when they arrived; and they were found in the same part of Florida by the same rescue team. The odds of all that happening are so small.”

The response to Dolphin Tale months later made the filmmakers reconsider extending Winter’s story with the new addition of Hope, who would now be Winter’s pool mate. Because Hope was stranded at such a young age she was far too young to have learned the life skills necessary to survive in the wild, so she will be joining Winter at the CMA for good.

Director Charles Martin Smith has said that he was thrilled to come back and show more of the great work that CMA does that didn’t make it into the final cut of the original film. “Especially emphasizing their mandate to ‘rescue, rehabilitate and, when possible, return the animals that come into their care to the wild.”

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The Bold Adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild for the Screen Wed, 03 Sep 2014 14:30:42 +0000 There is a moment in Cheryl Strayed’s memoir “Wild” where she has it out with her mother while hiking in Crater Lake National Park, Oregon—only by this point, her mother is dead, and the reckoning is with Strayed’s own grief and ... Read More

There is a moment in Cheryl Strayed’s memoir “Wild” where she has it out with her mother while hiking in Crater Lake National Park, Oregon—only by this point, her mother is dead, and the reckoning is with Strayed’s own grief and anger on what would have been her mother’s fiftieth birthday. Strayed catalogued some of the worsts things her mother had done, with dying at forty-five being the worst of the worst. These included occasionally smoking pot in front of her and her siblings, telling Strayed it was perfectly okay with her if she called her by her first name instead of ‘mom,’ and showing little interest in the precocious Strayed’s collegiate interests, never once asking her where she wanted to go to school. “That scene when I’m walking to Crater Lake and blaming her [for all her faults] felt like a sullying of my mom,” Strayed said during a talk at Portland State University. “I needed to show my mom as a human being…and show myself as a human, taking this dead woman to task…this creates a story that is dense with meaning.” What comes through in this moment, however, isn’t Strayed sullying her mom, or a revelation of what a monster her mom was (clearly she wasn’t–the list is only seven items long and hardly earth shattering), but how raw her grief still was five years after her mother’s death.

Strayed’s memoir, about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail after her mother’s death to cancer, her battle with addiction and the end of her marriage, is now a major motion picture playing starring Reese Witherspoon as Strayed. The PCT is some 1,100 miles along the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges as the crow flies, but the hike is actually double that when you factor in not having wings. Strayed estimated she hiked more than 2,000 miles, from the Mexican border in California to the Oregon/Washington border. The entire PCT moves along the crest of nine mountain ranges, passing through “national parks and wilderness areas as well as federal, tribal, and privately held lands; through deserts and mountains and rainforests; across rivers and highways,” as she wrote. Witherspoon is one of countless people who were moved, and awed, by Strayed’s memoir (another was Nick Hornby, who blurbed it, and would go onto to adapt it for the screen), but Witherspoon is probably one of the few people who could option the book before it was even published and turn it into a film within two years. After reading the book in galley on a plane, Witherspoon called Strayed on the phone to tell her she loved it and to ask if she would allow her to turn it into a film.

Using her own money and producing with her Pacific Standard film partner Bruna Papandrea, Witherspoon, along with director Jean-Marc Vallee and novelist/screenwriter Nick Hornby, overcame a slew of obstacles in adapting Strayed’s wrenching, dangerous and ultimately immensely moving journey for the screen. Figuring out how to create a film that needed to be both visually epic (in the grounded, lived-in sense felt in previous solo adventure/nightmare films like 127 Hours and Sean Penn’s Into the Wild) while also staying true to Strayed’s brutally honest and equally harrowing interior journey was no small feat, let alone on a relatively modest budget and shot in a fairly brisk month in the fall of 2013. That the film is being considered an Oscar hopeful after bowing at the Telluride Film Festival must feel like a revelation for Witherspoon, who hasn’t had this kind of heat since she won an Oscar for her performance in Walk the Line. 

The first part of the production was, of course, Nick Hornby’s adaptation. No easy task there, taking a beloved 311-page book written by a candid, immensely talented woman and adapting it into a 100-page script. Strayed told The Bulletin that Hornby began talking to her before he began writing, and kept her in the loop throughout the process. “He was so respectful of me all along the way, as was everyone involved in the film,” she said. “He’s not only a brilliant writer, he’s a generous, big-hearted man. I feel incredibly lucky that he adapted my book for the screen.”

When Wild was just set to begin filming at Crater Lake National Park for that crucial scene where Strayed works out her frustrations with her late, beloved mother, the cast and crew ran into a small problem—the 2013 government shutdown that closed all national parks. “At the very beginning, the national parks shut down the day we were starting to shoot,” Witherspoon said in a Q&A at the Telluride Film Festival. “We were in a panic. We had to shuffle locations.” Eventually Witherspoon and the rest of the crew did film at Crater Lake, including a desert sequence that was filmed in the Pumice Desert—only this was in late October in Oregon, and although the script called for Witherspoon to be soaked in sweat, she was actually covered in goose bumps.

The production crew limited their footprint in Crater Lake at the behest of Crater Lake rangers, including superintendent Craig Ackerman. The Herald News reported that Ackerman praised the film’s agile producers who shuffled their shooting schedule after the government shutdown and who pivoted after a request to shoot in the park’s Llao Rock area was nixed due to the site’s endangered plants, as well as their delicate treatment of the fragile Pumice Desert.

Reese Witherspoon in front of Smith Rock, in Oregon. Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Reese Witherspoon in front of Smith Rock, in Oregon. Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Oregonians had a bit of fun when the above photo was released by Fox Searchlight, which shows Reese Witherspoon standing in front of a beautiful, colossal rock. To 99% of the country, this looks like it belongs in the film, but to Oregonians, this is clearly Smith Rock, which is not located on the PCT. “To shoot on locations that are not literally the locations being depicted is a common practice in film,” Strayed told the Bend, Oregon Herald.  “It’s necessary for a number of logistical reasons. The intention was always to capture the stunning and diverse natural beauty of the PCT, even if we weren’t always on it. Though Smith Rock is iconic to Oregonians, most who see the film won’t know the difference.”

What will matter to the people who see Wild, especially those who loved Strayed’s book, will be the film’s commitment to the hard won honesty and truth that courses through its pages. Witherspoon was inspired to make the film in the first place to do just that.

I grew up as little girl loving movies,” Witherspoon said at the Telluride Q&A. “But I never in my 20 years of making movies have I ever read a script where at the end, the woman is alone, no man, no money, no job, no opportunities, no house, no car, and it’s a happy ending. I think that is revolutionary.”


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