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Research and development

From: 2010 SBIFF Producers' Panel: Movers and Shakers

Video: Research and development

(Music playing.) Patrick Goldstein: Before I move on, I want to ask Jon Landau one last thing, because I am not sure that people realize how much, what I would call, research and development Jim Cameron puts into the process long before any of the filmmaking begins. And I think that we're going to see a lot-- I think Avatar is a template for a movie we're going to see a lot more of.

Research and development

(Music playing.) Patrick Goldstein: Before I move on, I want to ask Jon Landau one last thing, because I am not sure that people realize how much, what I would call, research and development Jim Cameron puts into the process long before any of the filmmaking begins. And I think that we're going to see a lot-- I think Avatar is a template for a movie we're going to see a lot more of.

Can you explain the value of that R&D and what your role is at that stage? Jon Landau: Well, I think the R&D is two-fold. It's separated on the creative side and then on the practical side. On the creative side, I think it's important for Jim to invest in the property that he's directing, whether that be researching Titanic or True Lies, researching the marines and the Harrier jets. In our case on Avatar, it was really researching nature and how evolution works and creating a foundation so that Pandora could be a believable world and that includes the language, that includes the culture and meeting with anthropologists and the like.

Then the challenge is, okay, how do we make the movie and identifying at the beginning of a journey what are the important things? First thing we identified on Avatar, it wasn't the world. It was the close-up and it was how do we create a close-up with computer-generated characters that could be engaging and emotive because ultimately that's what movies are really about. As we go through the process, my role is understanding that reasoning, understanding that vision and saying here is why, and having a sense of what tools will allow that to happen.

And I felt that on Avatar, it was my responsibility to create a process, a paradigm that was first performance centric in getting the performances and second, director centric, and not letting technology get in the way of those because the movie would ultimately suffer. Mark Boal: We had a much different research experience, which is that when I was in Jordan sort of setting up the movie, one of the things that naturally occurs on your checklist is to get trailers for the actors, because it's in their contract.

And we had Ralph Fiennes and Guy Pearce playing cameo roles. So, this wasn't quite as inventive as Pandora, but finding a trailer in Jordan turned out to be very difficult because nobody shoots movies in Jordan and they don't have movie trailers. So you look at the neighboring countries and there were three trailers that you can rent from Israel. So we said great, let's get those. And getting a trailer from Israel to Jordan was like a major diplomatic international affair.

So that was not going to work and we tried to get them from Lebanon and then it was Syria and finally, it became clear as the clock was ticking down and we're getting that much closer to shooting that we were not going to have trailers for our actors. So going back to the collaboration between a director and a producer, so I kind of made this clear to Kathryn and then we decided to have a tent where all the actors would just exist in between shots. And so she had the job of then going to Jeremy Renner and Brian Geraghty and Ralph Fiennes and so forth and saying like, "Really good news. For creative reasons, in order to build the cohesiveness of this team and replicate the brutality of combat, we want to put all of you guys in one tent, and you are going to be in there with the extras sometimes and it's just going to be just like a war zone." And it actually, if you actually ever interview Renner or something, it's actually the one thing they always talk about "that damn tent you put us in." But it's just that was definitely one of those problems that didn't get solved but sort of worked out in the end anyway.

Patrick Goldstein: Well, let's move on to you Mark because of the following things that I know about making The Hurt Locker, making it in 44 days, making it on a very, very, very tight budget, making it in Jordan where almost no one had filmed and making it in the middle of the summer in Jordan, which would would rank number one as the most arduous thing that you'd never want to repeat? Mark Boal: Well, the summer was the one thing that we definitely didn't want to do. The first thing I did when we found Jordan was I went on weather.com and looked because I was thinking of wow, the summer, that might be an issue.

And it was obviously historically really hot in Jordan in the summer. So we all said, we'll just shoot in the spring. That will be fine, because it is not that bad in the spring. But then, obviously, we didn't have everything together in time. So we ended up either having to push the movie a year or shoot it in the summer and it's hard to overestimate the heat because it is kind of unrelenting but the problem is that the whole movie was exterior. Well, not the whole movie, but 80% of the movie is exterior shots. So on the first day of shooting at about I'd say midway through probably around 2 o'clock in the afternoon, half of the crew was like beat red and probably hours away from heat stroke.

And that was just the first day and we were hydrating people and we were passing out Gatorade, but everyone is really excited and no one is really thinking about hydration. They are just, it's the first day. You want to go, go, go. So heat stroke was like a real concern for the whole movie and it was a particular concern for Jeremy because he had to wear this bomb suit, which was incidentalyl the real bomb suit and very heavy and very hot inside there. And he'd had heat stroke actually as a teenager.

So when you've had it once, it makes you that much more likely to get it again and it can be a serious. It can be deadly. So we were constantly kind of monitoring Jeremy's condition and the summer was hard. And shooting in Jordan was hard too, because they didn't have trailers. They didn't have-- Patrick Goldstein: Well, let me play devil's advocate. Mark Boal: They didn't have-- well, let me just tell you one other thing. They didn't have explosives. Well, they had explosives, because it's like the Middle East. But they didn't have the kind of explosives we needed and I not being an expert in the art of special effects, I remember this conversation I had with Richard Stutzman who did all our pyrotechnics.

And saying, look Richard, I've got you like all this C-4 from the Jordanian military. What's the problem? Like you should be good to go. And he explained to me that you can't actually use real military unless you are Jim and maybe you do, or Michael Mann, but you don't really use real military explosives in a movie. You use black powder or use like stuff that looks explosive, but doesn't actually deliver the same amount of detonative charge or you'll kill people. So we had to get this stuff, black powder which they don't use. There is no military function for it anymore.

It's like what they used in muskets. So it doesn't exist in the Middle East because you can't really kill people with it. So we were trying to find that and literally made some of our explosives by grinding up Chinese firecrackers, with this little assembly line, which we would buy the hundred pound and grind them up and get little bits of black powder. So the logistical aspects of shooting in Jordan were tough too. Patrick Goldstein: But Morocco or the other obvious alternatives? Mark Boal: We went to Morocco and it didn't work.

That's where mostly basically if you shoot a movie about the Middle East, you go to Morocco and Ridley Scott shot there a lot and so there is a tremendous film infrastructure there. They are very professional and there is like two-day level crews and it's all bop, bop, bop. You go and you sign on the dotted line and they take care of everything. The two problems with that is, is one it wasn't the Middle East. It's North Africa and it didn't really dawn us originally because we did look at Morocco, but as we did more research, we realized that for a resident of the Middle East, for anyone that actually lives in that part of the world, to see Morocco and Moroccans portrayed as Iraqis, for example, is like a huge insult.

It would be the equivalent of having Italians playing Native Americans in the early days of Westerns. It's just wrong. They don't look the same, they don't speak the same. There is nothing really similar in their architecture. So aesthetically, it was wrong, and probably as importantly, economically, we couldn't afford it. It was just too expensive. So we had to find a place where the dollar would really go far, and part of the advantage of them not having a film infrastructure is they didn't really know how to price things.

And so they would say, like I don't know. How much is this location, rental fee for the street? How do you guys charge for that? And they'd be like, "we've never had our location rental fee," and I'd be like "good!" "Usually, customarily, it's free." That was the advantage of shooting in their country. Patrick Goldstein: You had I think of all the movies represented up here, you had the tightest budget. Jon Landau: No, no, we did. (Laughter.) Patrick Goldstein: You knew I had a joke coming in.

You are just were going to beat me to it. And I was going to ask some other people to jump in. Ivan, you certainly, you didn't have an unlimited budget. Lori, you had to work within your means. I was going to leave Jon out of this. Mark Boal: Yeah, this is something Jon should not be allowed to address, by the way. Patrick Goldstein: But I guess my question is, from the producer's standpoint, how did the lack of resources, lack of financial resources, sometimes inspire ingenuity? Mark Boal: Well, I don't want to hog it.

I mean we had no money. So it was just a simple thing that we just got used to and I mean we had $11 million, which is not no money. It's a lot of money, but for a war movie, it was not very much money. And that financier, I kept going back to him and saying like you know, we talked about helicopters. We can get you the helicopters, probably just another $80,000 and he would just say, not one penny more, not one penny more, not one penny more. So it was really clear pretty early on that it was what it was and we had to figure it out how to work within those means and you re-jig things on the fly a lot times and you make it work because "not one penny more." He was really clear about that.

Patrick Goldstein: Lori, working on Invictus, did you have some of those issues too? Lori McCreary: Well yeah, economical is a mild word. We had 55 days to shoot our film, big rugby film in South Africa, and he shot it in 49 days. The first day we shot Days 1 and 2. So Day 1 we were ahead a day. And this was, if you see in the movie, the big scene where Mandela comes in and changes the mind of the National Sports Committee to revote. That whole thing was shot in one day.

It was an 11-hour a day, which was the longest day we had of the 49 days. Go figure. The thing that I found most interesting was that most of the actors when they came on set, I mean except Matt and Morgan, we had 63 of the 70 were South Africans. So they never met Mr. Eastwood before, and they came on very nervous. And they would go and they say what do I do, will you introduce me to him and he always like to just meet them as they came on set.

So they would come on set quite nervous, go on to do their scene and oftentimes, Clint would say, okay, we are going to rehearse. And he would do this, which was the sign for his guys to roll. He uses the same really crack team. And they'd rehearse and he would say, okay, we're moving on and the actors would be like, wait a minute, but he got the most spontaneous interesting performances out of these people because they hadn't yet gotten that whatever some actors have a tendency to get when they are uptight and nervous. And throughout the film, the actors started relaxing, the ones that were on this.

They would come in just feeling, he has this way about him of making his actors feel so comfortable that they will go on and in the first take get whatever they need, even if they're playing across from Morgan Freeman or Matt Damon. I found the hardest thing with Clint was getting them to actually change something in the script. We had some historical inaccuracies that I needed, and really needed to change. We had requests from Mandela and different people in the film. That was probably the thing that was hardest with me working directly with Clint because everyone let me make those requests from him.

So it was a remarkable experience and we went in no earlier, except a couple of days, no earlier than 10:00 AM and our biggest question was do we wrap and then eat or do we eat and then call wrap? Seriously. And he shot a good movie. Jonas Rivera: First of all, I love hearing all this because for me it's fun to hear sort of this bizarro parallel of everything that happens in animation. I feel very comfortable that it happens in live-action as well, especially Hurt Locker.

Boy, that's exactly what it's like working at Pixar every day. (Laughter.) Mark Boal: I know, I have heard that actually. It was up here -- Jonas Rivera: It was almost eerie. Sort of at Pixar, it's almost like the old studio system. The way we've had people. Up is our tenth film. So we've had animators and directors of photography and technical directors that have been there for these 15-20 years doing what they do and really getting really good at it. And our sort of metric of budget is person weeks.

I know I've got 60 animators that are going to tackle this thing. Instead of a 59 day shoot, I've got a 12 month cycle to animate this film and your top animator is going to give you four seconds at best a week. So you are trying to divide this massive puzzle up and my job is sort of thinking about the budget is to help Pete Docter, the director, to kind of save him from himself and making the right decision at the right time. Because I know 11 months from now, Pete, we are going to be animating the emotional climax of Carl, the old guy, closing this book.

And that's when I'll fail if that's when I tell you I am out of time. We are out of time. So I am trying to move these puzzle pieces around appropriately and making a movie in animation is sort of like making it in slow motion. I mean you can imagine if you- and Jon, I know you deal with this- and it's like if you could stop the frame and every frame and go reach your hand in and move every single thing, you would. And so my job is to go, are you sure? That fold looks nice. Can we focus on this? I told Pete Docter once that think of me like as a producer as the "you are here" arrow on the map in the massive national park and I just got to make sure we get to the other side before 8 shots.

So there is a lot of balancing of priorities and so forth. But I love, instead of like set locations and location scouts, we have these virtual set locations and location scouts. We will go out and do research but it's really fun when you get so ingrained, because you work on these things, we worked on Up for five years. You start talking like it's real and it gets almost creepy. Pete would say, oh god, if we could just go into the kitchen and get that shot. Well, we could. But it is not real, but we could move the camera there.

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2010 SBIFF Producers' Panel: Movers and Shakers

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